I am Emily. I am the mother of two children. I have a three year old daughter who lives with me in Nevada. I have not seen or talked to my six year old son, Murray, in almost four years. My daughter has never met her big brother but we look at Murray’s picture every day so she knows she has a brother.
My brother and sister-in-law used a phony court order to remove Murray from Nevada. The court order was prepared in 2003 by Leigh Peek of Hillsborough, North Carolina. My brother and sister-in-law told me they needed a document to get emergency medical care for Murray while I left him in their care for a few weeks. I did not want to sign the document because Murray already had Medicaid, but I trusted Leigh because she is Mormon and my family is Mormon. Leigh did not advise me to see another attorney before I signed the document in her office, so I thought she was representing me.
Three years after I signed the document in Leigh’s office, my son was kidnapped by his father in Nevada. My brother flew to Nevada with the document I signed in Leigh’s office and told the judge he had joint custody of my son. My attorney, Betsy Wolfenden, explained to me why the document I signed was not a valid child custody order.
Leigh told the judges in North Carolina and in Nevada that the document I signed in her office was a child custody order. The judges believed her and they transferred my son’s case from Nevada to North Carolina. You can imagine how difficult it is to fight for your child from another state on a limited income! I believe Leigh wanted the case moved to North Carolina so she could make money from my brother, who paid her a lot.
After my brother got Murray, he and his wife changed his name to Colin Alexander and gave him away to strangers without telling me. They gave Murray to a Mormon couple who live in Surry County, North Carolina. Murray was three years old at the time. When Betsy deposed the couple, they told her that Murray (who they also call Colin Alexander) had made the decision to live with him. The wife admitted she has bi-polar disorder. The husband said he thought Murray looked like him.
The Mormon couple wanted to adopt Murray. I am not surprised because my son is an adorable little boy. The Mormon couple hired Leigh Peek and another attorney, Donna Ambler Rice, to prepare and file the adoption papers. In order to adopt my son, the Mormon couple needed my consent. Instead, they all decided that my brother should try and get custody of Murray in Orange County so he could consent to Murray’s adoption in Surry County. Betsy explained to me that it was not legal for my brother to consent to Murray’s adoption even if he had sole custody.
My bother filed a complaint in Orange County, asking for sole legal and physical custody of Murray. Leigh served me in Nevada with the complaint and I served her with my answer, asking for my son back. Leigh went to court to get a hearing date. Instead of asking the judge for a hearing date, she told the judge that I had not answered the complaint or contacted the court. This was a complete lie! The judge—Judge Buckner—did not even take the time to open my file and read it. He just took Leigh at her word and told her he would sign the custody order she had written. My brother was not even in court that day! If he had been in court and Judge Buckner had asked him about Murray, my brother would have to tell Judge Buckner that he had given Murray away. Betsy explained to me that in North Carolina, a judge must hold a hearing before he signs a child custody order which gives one person sole custody of a child. Judge Buckner did not hold hearing in my case or take any evidence from anyone.
After my brother got custody of Murray, he consented to his adoption and the adoption almost went through! I hired Betsy Wolfenden to stop the adoption and she did. When we looked through the adoption paperwork, we discovered that the Mormon couple gave my brother money after he took Murray to their house. I could not believe my brother sold my son.
After we got the adoption dismissed, we tried to get Murray out of the Mormon couple’s house. Betsy told Judge Buckner that when he signed the custody order, Leigh had committed a fraud upon the court by telling him I had not answered the complaint and by not telling him that Murray was no longer living with my brother and his wife. Judge Buckner refused to set aside the custody order Leigh prepared even though he knew he was wrong. He also refused to give me a court hearing. Betsy also filed a motion so I could see my son. The day before we were going to get heard on the motion, Leigh and Donna asked the judge for a continuance and he granted their motion.
Murray has now lived with the Mormon couple for three years. Although Murray is in their home illegally, I cannot imagine putting son through any more unnecessary trauma. That is why I decided to sue Leigh Peek and Donna Davis. There is no money in the world that can replace the years I have lost with my son and I felt I had a duty to other parents to stop such unethical legal practices.
No one in this case has won or will ever win except for Leigh Peek and Donna Ambler Rice, who made thousands of dollars from my brother and the Mormon couple. The Mormon couple was not able to adopt my son and they don’t have legal custody of my son. My brother and his wife have legal custody of my son but they gave Murray away to the Mormon couple. When we tried to negotiate a shared custody arrangement that would benefit everyone in this case, including Murray, Donna and Leigh told the North Carolina State Bar that Betsy was trying to sell Murray. It was impossible for Betsy to sell Murray when he had already been sold by my brother!
I complained to the North Carolina State Bar about Leigh and Donna’s conduct but they rejected my complaint, saying they did not have enough evidence to find they had acted unethically. That is a travesty because Betsy gave the State Bar all the documents that have been filed in this case, and the State Bar assured me they would contact me or Betsy if they needed further evidence. Instead, the State Bar disbarred Betsy.
I believe the North Carolina State Bar disbarred Betsy because they know I will not find another attorney in the State of North Carolina who has the courage to pick up where Betsy left off. The State Bar also knows that without Betsy, my case will be swept under the carpet and the corruption in Orange County District Court will continue.
I have no faith in a system that prosecutes people for standing up for what’s right. Betsy Wolfenden stood up for me knowing her law career was at stake. Betsy has dealt with slander and harassment from attorneys and judges in Orange Country District Court throughout the life of my case, but she never gave up. She promised me she would never stop fighting for me, but the North Carolina State Bar clearly had other plans for my case.
I don’t even know if my son remembers his real name--Murray Lee Edwin McManaway--or if he remembers me, but I hope that one day I will get the chance to explain to him that his mommy did not give him away, but that he was stolen from me by the North Carolina legal system.
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