CHARLESTON – A Clay County woman is alleging a Kanawha County family law judge lacks grounds to consider a guardianship petition of her son filed by both his grandmothers.
Judge Sharon Mullens is named as a respondent in a writ of prohibition filed by Taylar Gray. In her petition filed March 4 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Gray, 21, alleges Mullens enabled Jennifer Mullins and Diana Holcomb, the maternal and paternal grandmothers, respectively, of her son Tristin to engage in legal trickeration in an attempt to gain custody of him.
Mullins and Holcomb are also named as respondents in the writ.
According to the petition, Gray became pregnant with Tristin in 2009 while dating Derrick Shaffer. After giving birth to Tristin the next year and moving to the Fairmont/Morgantown-area with Shaffer, Gray temporarily resided with Holcomb, Shaffer’s mother, in February 2012 after Shaffer became abusive, it is alleged.
Shortly thereafter, she and Tristin moved back in with Mullins at her home in Clendenin. Following an alleged altercation between Derrick and Gray’s father Jamie later that month, Gray says she filed for and received a domestic violence protective order against Derrick that was ultimately extended until August.
According to the petition, Gray met her now-husband Adam in June, and, along with Tristin, moved in with his parents. They got married in August.
As a result of Superstorm Sandy, Gray said power at Adam’s parent’s house was knocked out on Oct. 31. This came at the time she and Adam were making arrangements to move into a home of their own.
As a result of the power outage, Gray asked Mullins if Tristin could stay with her until it was restored. Gray says Mullins agreed.
According to the petition, after the power was restored, Gray on Nov. 4 agreed to allow Holcomb to take Tristin back home to visit her. The arrangement, Gray said, was for Mullins to travel to Weston the next day, pick Tristin up and return him to her.
On Nov. 5, Gray says she informed Mullins that Adam received a job offer in New York and was seriously considering accepting it. Later that evening, when Gray called her to find out where Tristin was, Mullins said she and Holcomb as “grandparents thought it was in the best interest of Tristin not to come home,” and she would be served with legal papers later that evening, it is alleged.
When she received no legal papers by Nov. 7, Gray says she went to the Kanawha Circuit Clerk’s Office to see what, if anything, either Holcomb or Mullins filed. After initially told nothing, a deputy clerk called her an hour later saying Mullens recently signed paperwork granting Holcomb temporary custody of Tristin to Holcomb, she says.
According to the petition, Gray said she later received a letter in the mail informing her a hearing was scheduled before Mullens on Nov. 19. During the hearing, Gray avers that Mullens was “very rude” and “decided that she didn’t have time to have a trial that day because she didn’t want to be there all day.”
Instead, Gray says Mullens decided Tristin would remain with Holcomb and Mullins and appointed a guardian ad litem until she could make a final ruling. Also, Mullens allowed for her to make arrangements with Mullins to schedule visitation.
According to her petition, Gray says she did not see Tristin again until first Dec. 8, then again at Christmas. The last time Holcomb and Mullins allowed her to see him, Gray says, was on Jan. 10.
In her petition, Gray states that Mullens should have dismissed the guardianship petition on jurisdictional grounds. Since the state Supreme Court has ruled such petitions must be filed in the county where the child resides, Gray argues Holcomb engaged in forum-shopping by filing the petition in Kanawha County and not Clay County.
Holcomb, Gray says, used fraud to get the petition in Kanawha County, through Mullins acting as an intervener.
Also, Gray maintains the allegations of abuse and neglect Holcomb and Mullins raise in their petition are without merit. A year earlier, she says Holcomb made similar allegations in a prior guardianship petition which was denied by Judge Michael J. Kelly after finding she was not an unfit parent.
In her petition, Gray alleges since he has been removed from her care, Tristin has “suffered repeated injuries, bites that have drawn blood, inappropriate medical care, and emotional abuse.”
Along with an order halting Mullens from making any further rulings on the guardianship proceeding, Gray asks that all her prior rulings be voided and Tristin be returned to her custody.
She is represented by Clay attorney Barbara Harmon-Schamberger.
The case is assigned to Judge Louis Bloom.
Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 13-MISC-111