Bleak House | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Bleak House

After more than a decade, a local family is still locked in a battle over alleged abuse. Will a lawsuit bring this case to an end?

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When Valette Majors first met Kevin Clark, at the University of Pittsburgh in 1982, the picture looked brighter. Val was a singer and Kevin a pianist, Valette Clark recalls, and they performed together around the city. (Through his attorneys, Kevin Clark declined comment for this story.) They began dating in 1984, and in 1985 moved to St. Louis together, so Kevin could attend medical school. They were married later that year, eventually returning to Pittsburgh so Kevin Clark could serve an internship. He currently works in the area as an ophthalmologist in private practice.

By August 1987, the Clarks had their first child, Michael; two girls and a boy would follow in the next seven years. But their Moon Township home "was not a peaceful house," Michael Clark's lawsuit contends.

Among other allegedly abusive behaviors, three of the lawsuits allege that Kevin Clark held his children in midair from a second-floor banister in the home.

"He would hold me over the banister by my knees and he would let me go and then catch me by my ankles," Michael Clark recalls. "It scared the shit out of me, and he would be laughing."

Michael Clark's lawsuit, much like the others, alleges his father "terroriz[ed] his family" in other ways. For example, it alleges that in 1999, Kevin Clark had three of the children lie down on the floor, and "told them that the situation was similar to a recent robbery where the victims were murdered." Kevin Clark, the complaint alleges, told them "‘you won't know when it's comin',' implying that he might kill them then and there."

Kevin Clark's own legal filings deny the accusation, as well as other claims of abuse. The filings acknowledge that he referred to Michael as "psycho son" and "faggot," but deny "that these references were physically or psychologically abusive." As for the balcony allegations, in a 2005 preliminary hearing, Kevin Clark's then-lawyer, Robert Stewart, contended that Kevin Clark was "a father goofing around [who] has control of [his children] and brings them back in." Stewart likened the situation to "a father toss[ing] his kid in the air" or "letting them ride on their shoulders" because "they could always fall off."

In any event, says attorney Ed Flynn, if any of the alleged incidents did occur, they were only mistakes made by a young father that "don't rise to the level of child abuse."

According to a 2005 written opinion that is an exhibit in Michael Clark's civil lawsuit, Judge Mulligan took the allegations seriously. She wrote that after a pair of 2002 custody hearings, she allowed Kevin Clark "only supervised visits with the ... two younger children" — a decision "based upon the testimony at the two hearings." While sex-abuse allegations were not raised at those hearings, a psychologist, Dr. Mark King, had conducted a psychological evaluation of Kevin Clark, and Mulligan wrote that he found the father's conduct "was extremely inappropriate and was clearly psychological abuse and probably physical abuse as well." Still, Mulligan wrote, "King testified that father did not have the characteristics of a sexual abuser."

"These kids have suffered," says Val Clark. "I feel guilt about not leaving him earlier every day." But "My father was old-school. He told me, ‘You married him, you have to make it work,' and I tried."

"I know people wonder why we lived like that, but it's a delicate dance to get out of that bad situation," she adds. And "when we did leave, we went to family court and we expected to be protected and we weren't."

The case was assigned to Mulligan, who came with plenty of positive recommendations. In 2000, when the county bar association ranked Allegheny County judges for impartiality, temperament, diligence and legal ability, Mulligan ranked either among the top 10 or close to it in each category. But as the years wore on, Val Clark began mistrusting Mulligan — and other aspects of the judicial process.

When Kevin Clark first sought visitation rights with his children, Mulligan initially ordered that the visits be supervised by the Parental Stress Center, an East Liberty family-support agency. But in 2004, Kevin Clark sought to have the visits be unsupervised — just himself and his children. Mulligan agreed. As she later wrote in an opinion, staffers had upbeat assessments of the supervised visits. "[W]hile the children were legitimately afraid of father because of his past conduct," Mulligan added, unsupervised visits were warranted "given father's progress and the fact that the visits had been going well."

But after the unsupervised visits began, accusations began surfacing that had previously received little attention: that Kevin Clark had been sexually abusive as well.

The earliest allegation of sex abuse seems to have surfaced during King's evaluation in 2002, though accounts vary as to how the accusation arose.

According to court records, King's recollection is that while he was evaluating Kevin Clark, Val Clark told him about an incident in which she'd allegedly caught Kevin holding Michael, threatening to insert a broomstick in his anus. But as Mulligan recounted the history in her opinion, King testified that "none of the children told [King] about such an incident themselves" even though they "did talk in great detail" about other alleged abuse. "Because it was a parent who relayed the information and not a child," Mulligan wrote, King did not report the matter to authorities.

Both Val and Michael Clark, however, say that's not how it happened. Michael Clark says he did tell King of the abuse; Val says Dr. King told her about a second incident. As Mulligan puts it, "Mother testified that Dr. King told her that Michael reported the sexual abuse to him in 2002 and upon learning this, Dr. King confronted her about what happened."

"I couldn't believe it at first," Val Clark now says. "It was the most devastating day of my life."

But court records show that Clark's then-attorney, Daniel Glasser, didn't raise the allegations in 2002. Nor did Val Clark mention it during her own courtroom testimony prior to 2004.

In a 2006 appeal of Mulligan's custody decision, a new attorney for Val Clark wrote that Glasser "advised her that they did not need to delve into Father's past sexual assaults because Father had ‘admitted to enough on the record' to justify an award of supervised visitation. Further, Pennsylvania law imposed no requirement upon Mother to raise those issues at that time." (Glasser says he is "prohibited" from discussing the issue, citing attorney-client privilege. Kevin Clark's lawyers are seeking to have the privilege waived, so they can question Glasser about the allegation.)

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