This report is part 18 of an investigative series looking into reported corruption in the Missouri Judiciary and family courts. For the rest of the investigation, visit the catalog here.
Guardians ad litem across the country are in the spotlight after many cases of abuse have been discovered both in the care of the elderly and with children in family courts. Documentaries such as The Guardians, directed by Billie Minz, and movies such as Netflix’s I Care A Lot have spotlighted these heinous crimes against powerless and vulnerable populations. Little to nothing has been done to hold them accountable. Only one guardian ad litem (to my knowledge), April Parks, is serving time in prison for her crimes against the elderly.
In the state of Washington, Jacob Burkhart is fighting against guardian ad litem Shannon Moreau, who has been diligently working to reunite his children with their mother, who abandoned them twice, over many years, for drugs. The children were raised by their father and have no desire to have a relationship with their mother, whom they don’t know. Instead of listening to the children’s concerns about abandonment, Moreau has steadfastly ignored their concerns by blaming Burkhart for “parental alienation” (a discredited pseudo-scientific theory that has been linked to Nazi ideology). Moreau constantly makes claims that the children, 13 and 14, are simply parroting their dad’s opinions and not their own.
During discovery, Burkhart obtained transcripts of his first meeting with Moreau that showed her berating and threatening him with the loss of his children if he did not submit to her demand that they be forced into “reunification therapy” with the abandoner parent. Reunification therapy is highly controversial and is being compared to gay conversion camps that abuse children. David Segui, a Major League Baseball player, was forced to send his children to a reunification camp called Family Bridges. His 12-year-old son desperately tried to reach the media by posting in the comments section on a website called Celeb to report that he was being forced into a relationship with his abuser. Video later surfaced of his mother’s boyfriend, another MLB star, Mark Grudzielanek, allegedly abusing one of Segui’s children. Grudzielanek is currently under police investigation. Celeb reported:
Upon enrollment in the program on court order, the children in the case are removed from the custodial parent and taken to Family Bridges, which doesn’t have a facility but instead uses hotels to conduct its “treatment.” After a series of workshops that include bizarre videos and alleged conditioning, the children are then turned over to the custody of the “alienated” parent—in the Segui case, the childrens’ mother. From there, they attend a 90-day or longer aftercare period during which Family Bridges claims to monitor the reunification progress. However, Family Bridges is not licensed therapy and uses highly controversial methods.
Burkhart is very worried that Moreau intends to send his children to such a place because they do not want a relationship with their mother, in conflict with the guardian’s wishes. History shows that if a GAL is disobeyed, serious and scary things can happen to your kids or elderly parents. Our investigations have found that judges almost never disagree with guardian recommendations. PJ Media has looked at hundreds of cases and has not found one case that was divergent from the recommendations of the appointed GAL. The transcript of GAL Moreau berating and threatening Burkhart is damning enough, but Burkhart says the audiotape will show the hostile tone Moreau used when threatening him with the loss of his children.
“She was yelling and screaming and cursing at me,” Burkhart told PJ Media. “She was pressuring me to do exactly what she wanted or she was going to take ‘serious action’ with my children.” Burkhart said her mind was made up before he ever walked into that meeting. “She had already spoken to my ex and court-appointed therapists, who were severely conflicted before she ever saw me.”
Discovery also found text messages and emails between the ex-wife, the GAL, and the therapist conspiring against Burkhart. Burkhart has filed a motion to dismiss the GAL citing this prejudice. The GAL is supposed to be a neutral fact-finder; but from the very beginning, Moreau’s actions and words have shown a clear bias against Burkhart. PJ Media is in receipt of a particularly disturbing email from Moreau about Burkhart that should disqualify her from the case. It included the egregious charge that “manipulation” is worse than child abuse. “Manipulation” is code for “parental alienation syndrome.”
Moreau wrote, with no evidence of any father-directed “manipulation,” “In my opinion, this kind of emotional manipulation is worse than physical abuse. Physical wounds heal, but damaging the psyche of developing brains will have horrific results throughout their life.”
PJ Media reached out to Moreau and asked her the following questions regarding that email:
Can you please clarify how in your opinion, vague allegations of “manipulation” is worse than physical abuse like rape, beatings, torture, or other forms of physical abuse?
What is your specific training that would make you an expert in the long term effects of physical abuse versus “emotional manipulation”?
What is your training in child abuse? What certifications do you have that makes you an expert in child abuse or the effects of childhood trauma?
Did you ever study the effects of abandonment in children?
Have you ever taken into consideration that children who are repeatedly abandoned by a parent might have negative feelings they came to all on their own about that parent who chose drugs over them?
I received no reply.
On June 9, 2021, PJ Media observed a hearing in this case and was surprised to hear Moreau complain to the judge that media on the call was “harassing” her and ask for a protective order to seal the audio recording of her exchange with Burkhart so that reporters could not “misuse” it. Moreau specifically named me and investigative reporter Michael Volpe. You can hear her arguing to seal her audio from the public on the recording below.
Moreau’s allegations that the press is “harassing” her are ridiculous. PJ Media sent her two press inquiries, one in April and one in May, which she submitted to the court as evidence of “harassment.” One was the set of questions above about the highly prejudicial email she sent Jake Burkhart and the other was in response to the threats she levied at Burkhart on the transcripts of the recorded call she refuses to turn over despite a court order. I’ve decided to publish my press inquiry here so that the public can make up its own mind about her allegations of “harassment.”
Dear Ms. Moreau,I am working under deadline and would appreciate a response by 3pm EST. Failure to respond will be reported as a refusal. If you should respond after the deadline I will be happy to update my article with your response.1. On April 5, 2021 you interviewed Jacob Burkhart. During that interview you said the following: “And maybe help things get into a different place than it is right now because reunification is going to happen. It just needs to be accepted. This is not going to stop. Do you understand that?…The counseling orders, the contempt, all of this is going to continue to go, and now that I’m on board, I will not be letting that go indefinitely, just so you know. One of the reasons why they both wanted me is because they know I know how to get things done and I don’t put up with a lot of crap.”a. What powers do you have to make sure that Jacob Burkhart is held in contempt? Does a guardian ad litem have the power to hold a person in contempt or threaten a person with contempt? I was under the impression that only judges have that power. Can you provide for me the law or rule that gives you the power to threaten someone with contempt?b. “I know how to get things done and I don’t put up with a lot of crap.” Would you consider this statement to be professional and ethical according to professional standards? Here’s what your standards state. “A GAL is an officer of the court and must maintain independence, conduct herself or himself professionally, avoid conflicts of interest, treat parties with respect,” Do you believe that threatening Jacob Burkhart with contempt and speaking to him this way showed “respect” to him as a party to the case? This was your first meeting with him, correct? What “crap” were you referring to? I have read the transcript and Mr. Burkhart appears to be cooperating fully with you and treating you with respect. What was the “crap” you said he was engaging in?c. “It just needs to be accepted. This is not going to stop. Do you understand that?” Are you familiar with Extortion in the 1st degree?
According to RCW 9A.56.120(1) and RCW 9A.04.110(28)(a)-(c), a person is guilty of extortion in the first degree if he or she obtains or attempts to obtain someone else’s property or services through the use of one of the following three threats:
- A threat to take wrongful action as an official (or not to act);
- A threat to do “any other act” that is intended to substantially harm the victim’s or any other person’s health, safety, business, financial condition, or personal relationships.Your statements to Mr. Burkhart appear to be threatening to take wrongful action by holding him in contempt of court and also by damaging his relationship with his children if he does not obey your commands: forcing his children to reunify with their mother who abandoned them twice for drugs. Have you considered that your statements here could be extortion? Do you believe that these statements are unbiased and befitting an officer of the court? Why are you still on this case? Shouldn’t a person who is required to be unbiased and “independent” according to professional standards who has engaged in this kind of behavior against a party in a case recuse herself?2. “And if we end up having to go to court, I don’t think you’ll like the outcome,” you said. How do you know what the outcome of a trial will be that hasn’t happened yet? Do you often predict the outcome of cases as a hobby or do you have some special knowledge of how the judge will act that is improper, as in “ex parte” communications or relationships with judges that you should not have?3. “Both of you have a fundamental right to parent your children,” you said. According to Washington state law abandonment is a valid reason to restrict visitation. [Mother] abandoned her children not once, but twice for periods of longer than 6 months with no communication. She legally abandoned her children. Her abandonment of her children can have negative consequences for her children which they have tried to voice to you and several therapists. Why are you continuing to force “reunification” therapy on these children who do not want to be reunified with their mother who abandoned them? Why do their feelings on this subject not matter to you? How are you qualified to act in the best interest of children when you appear not to listen to their concerns at all?4. The childrens’ therapist has reported to you that the reunification therapy you insist upon is affecting them negatively. Their grades have dropped, they are suffering depression and anxiety and yet you continue to force them to go to this “therapy” which seems more like abuse. Can you explain to me how forcing children to go to “therapy” which makes them unhappy and sad and depressed is “in the best interest of the children?”5. You are currently in violation of a court order and refusing to turn over discovery in this case. Why should you not be held in contempt for that? I heard the commissioner order you to turn over audio recordings to Mr. Burkhart and in response you refused on the basis that I might use that recording to show the public how you behave. I do not believe that fear of public scrutiny is a valid reason to refuse a court order in America where we value freedom of the press. What law can you site that says you have a right to withhold discovery and disobey a court order because you fear the press?
Once again, it is obvious that people who are being scrutinized by the press because of their questionable behavior claim “harassment.” The last person to do this was GAL Jennifer Williams when she withdrew from the Haynes case. In that case her client, 14-year-old Mikaela Haynes, killed herself because of the repeated attempts to reunify her with her rapist father. Williams put on the court record our press inquiry claiming she had to withdraw from the case because of “harassment” and “death threats.”
The remedy for these issues is not to seal the court records from the people but to engage in more transparency. If Shannon Moreau has behaved correctly and professionally, she should have no concerns about releasing the audiotapes of her conversation with Burkhart.
“Our society has a right to know how our family court and court-appointed officials are acting and behaving,” said Burkhart. “They are part of the judicial branch which is no different from the legislative or executive branch. We have a right to know what is happening.”