Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Dad gets custody after mother's 'spiteful' lies

Judge says woman was also guilty of contempt of court, which merited a jail term

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

A Lower Mainland man has been awarded sole custody of his young daughter after a judge found the child's mother committed spiteful perjury in court about her former common-law husband and was flagrantly in contempt of court orders allowing him to visit his children.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Edwards decided not to send Nancy Jean Strobel to jail, finding it would be contrary to the best interest of her five-year-old daughter.

The judge noted that the girl is trying to get over the death of her three-year-old brother, Brody, who died March 15 of meningitis.

"However," the judge added, "I warn the mother that I have found she has committed serious and repeated contempts of the orders of this court, which warrant a substantial jail sentence, and have only suspended indefinitely the imposition of that sentence."

If Strobel fails to comply with court orders in the future, "then [she] will be compelled to appear before the court and a jail sentence will be imposed," the judge said.

The judge pointed out that he was not awarding sole custody to the father, Justin Anton Steinebach, to punish Strodel for contempt, but because it would be in the best interest of the child to re-establish contact with her father after a three-year interruption.

Strobel, 30, who is remarried with a one-year-old son and is now living in Hawaii, swore a number of false statements used in court: that Steinebach was not the biological father of the children; that he had threatened to kill his ex-wife, his children and his ex-wife's mother; and that he was mentally unstable.

"Her allegations were false," Edwards wrote in a 30-page judgment. "She admitted she knew they were false when she made them. I infer she made them to pervert the course of justice by attempting to have the courts here and in Hawaii deny the father any contact with the children, and to explain or justify her disobedience of the court orders."

The written judgment also warned Strobel's mother, Heather Maron, that she faced losing access to the child because of her conduct. The judge found she "aided and abetted the mother in her contempt of court orders."

There was sufficient evidence to order Maron to stand trial for contempt, the judge added. But Edwards decided not to do so "because of the risk such a trial may serve to inflame antipathy between the parties and divert attention from the urgent need to cooperate and ensure the best interest of (their daughter) is met."

The judge admonished Maron for stating, in the girl's presence, that Steinebach was at fault for his son's death. Maron later acknowledged she was wrong to have said that, explaining she was distraught over Brody's death.

Maron also admitted that she later dialled Steinebach for the girl, who told her father over the phone that she would call police if he didn't return her belongings. Suspecting that Maron might take the girl out of B.C., Steinebach obtained an ex-parte restraining order on March 16, a Saturday, from B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm.

The judge found that Strobel and her mother "embarked on a concerted plan to prevent the father from contacting the children."

The couple, who were never married, had a stormy relationship during the four years they lived together. After their separation in October 1999, the mother took steps to deny the father access to the children, maintaining she was concerned for their safety.

The father made unsuccessful attempts in May 2000 to locate his ex-wife and children in Hawaii. When the father finally located them and got a court order to allow him an access visit, he arrived in Hawaii to be harassed by U.S. immigration authorities and police, who were falsely advised by Maron that the father was there to breach a temporary restraining order issued against him by a Honolulu court.

"This conduct amounted to a deliberate and egregious disobedience of this court's orders," Edwards concluded.

The following year, Steinebach, a 27-year-old truck driver, got another court order allowing him unsupervised access to his children last Christmas. But when he arrived in Hawaii, he learned that his ex-wife had decided to ignore the court order -- she had taken the children to California without notifying him.

The judge found the mother in contempt of court for this and other conduct. Edwards credited the mother's current lawyer, Steven Mansfield, for getting Strobel to understand the gravity of defying court orders and persuading her to admit she had committed perjury in sworn statements filed in courts here and in Hawaii.

The judge also credited the father for not reacting with threats to his ex-wife's provocation but instead relying on the court proceedings to vindicate his position.

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