CHARLESTON - Instead of acting in their best interest, a Dunbar woman is alleging a Ripley attorney appointed as her children's guardian has aided and abetted her ex-husband in alienating them from her.
In a complaint filed March 2 with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, Teresa Lowe, 40, alleges that Leah R. Chappell has failed to follow court orders granting her regular visitation with the sons she shares with her ex-husband, Troy Welling. Also, Lowe alleges Chappell has fabricated information about her as an excuse to deny her visitation.
Chappell is the guardian ad litem for Lowe's and Welling's sons, T.J., 14, and Eric, 9. A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed to represent the personal and property interest of another person who is incapable of caring for his own interests due to infancy, incapacity or disability.
According to Lowe's complaint, Chappell was appointed as guardian on July 6, 2006 by then-Jackson Family Law Judge Deloris J. "Jeanie" Nibert. Prior to their divorce in 2002, both Lowe and Welling lived in Jackson County.
On July 31, 2006, Lowe says temporary custody of T.J. and Eric was granted to their paternal and maternal grandmothers. As part of the custody agreement, Lowe was to have visitation with them one day a week at Kids First, a Parkersburg exchange and visitation center, and nightly telephone calls starting at 7 p.m.
When both grandmothers refused to allow her any contact with the boys, Lowe says she made repeated telephone calls to both Chappell and her attorney at the time, Joseph P. Albright Jr., to get them to abide by the order. However, neither returned her calls.
Eventually, Lowe says she was allowed to talk to the boys only sporadically beginning in January 2007, and had her first visit with only Eric in March 2007.
Chappell's malfeasance, Lowe alleges, only got worse following the report she submitted to the court in July 2007. The 24-page report "contained hearsay accusation [sic] made by third parties, and statements said to have been made by the children" who "were not interviewed by [Chappell] until one year after the said occurrences and had been led to believe the mother had given them up and did not want to be their mother."
Specifically, Lowe says that Chappell continually accused her of being an alcoholic and drug addict despite a "Drug and alcohol assessment, and multiple other documents which evidenced otherwise." Also, Lowe says Chappell in the report attempted to paint her in an unfavorable light for giving Eric ibuprophen for "unknown reasons."
A registered nurse, Lowe said she gave Eric the ibuprophen for its intended purpose, to relieve a fever he had.
Shortly after Chappell submitted her report, Nibert entered a temporary order again granting Lowe weekly visits with T.J. and Eric at Kids First. Only this time, the visits were to be unsupervised with the condition that Lowe agree to family counseling with the boys.
However, Lowe alleges that Chappell twisted the intent of the order by stipulating that visitation cannot start until Lowe completed a psychological evaluation. Also, Lowe alleges that Chappell told staff at Kids First to ignore the court orders allowing Lowe weekly visitations to which she's been entitled since July 2006.
In the course of taking the psychological evaluation, Lowe says Chappell again submitted false information about her. In addition to telling her Lowe had been arrested for driving without a license, Chappell informed the psychologist that Lowe had failed to complete all her drug and alcohol evaluations.
However, Lowe avers that she completed all testing by October 2007, three months before Welling and the boys completed theirs. Despite her timely efforts, Lowe says that as of Feb. 4, 2008 Chappell had yet to file a supplemental report with the court based on the psychological evaluation.
If that weren't bad enough, Lowe says in the midst of completing all the evaluations, Chappell submitted her a bill for services as guardian, $4,207.50. Despite Lowe's objections to the shoddiness of her work, Chappell was successful in obtaining a judgment against Lowe on Sept. 26, 2007. Chappell's work as guardian ad litem, Lowe says, has been anything but.
"Ms. Chappell did not fulfill her obligations to the minor children," Lowe says in her complaint. "Her actions were actually detrimental to the children. In fact, she obstructed the unification of the children and their biological mother, which had been ordered by both the judge and the agreed order."
"Ms Chappell," Lowe adds, "has continued to fault the mother, despite her not only meeting but exceeding all of the court requirements."
"Ms. Chappell's negligence has resulted in the loss of parent/child bond with both minor children and all parties have suffered unbearable damages as a result."
Chappell was not immediately available for comment concerning Lowe's complaint.
A former assistant Jackson County prosecutor, Chappell, 44, is partner in the Ripley law firm of Adams, Fisher and Chappell. In addition to Lowe's, Chappell's disciplinary file shows 13 other complaints have been filed against her since being admitted to the Bar on Sept. 26, 1990.
All prior complaints were dismissed without any formal disciplinary action.