Los Angeles, CA – It's a custody case in which no one disputes these tragic facts: A healthy young woman went to the hospital to deliver her triplets, was badly brain damaged by a series of medical errors and can no longer walk, talk or even feed herself.
But Abbie Dorn's attorney says that doesn't make her any less a mother to those 4-year-old triplets, telling Superior Court Judge Frederick C. Shaller at a pre-trial hearing in Los Angeles Thursday that the 34-year-old woman has the same rights to regular visits with her children as any other parent.
"They can call her mommy and, most of all, they can tell her they love her," attorney Lisa Meyer said during closing arguments at a hearing to decide whether Dorn is allowed to see her children for two weeks every summer and a week in the spring and fall.
The attorney for Dorn's ex-husband, Dan Dorn, countered Meyer, saying that as tragic as her situation is, she is no longer capable of being a parent and that if her children are to see her it should only be under the supervision of their father and on his terms.
"It's unfortunate but it's the truth, and we have to deal with what we know," said attorney Vicki Greene.
It likely will not be the final word in this case, as Abbie Dorn's parents have sued for permanent visitation rights.
After the closing arguments, Shaller closed the courtroom to the public so he and the attorneys could discuss the effect of visitations on Dorn's children without violating their privacy. He said he expected to issue a tentative written ruling to the attorneys sometime Thursday.
A trial date on that matter has not been scheduled.
The tragic events that led all parties to Shaller's courtroom this week began on what should have been the happiest day of Abbie Dorn's life. That was June 20, 2006, when she left for the hospital to give birth to her sons Reuvi and Yossi and their sister Esti.
The first two births took place without incident. But as a doctor was delivering Yossi, he accidentally nicked Dorn's uterus. Before doctors could stop the bleeding, her heart had stopped, a defibrillator they used malfunctioned and her brain was deprived of oxygen.
A year later her husband, believing she would never recover, divorced her and is raising their children at his Los Angeles home. Her parents, meanwhile, took her to their Myrtle Beach, S.C., home where they are caring for her. As the conservators of her estate, they also manage her malpractice settlement of nearly $8 million.
Dorn's attorney argues that her children should not be denied the crucial opportunity to bond with her as they grow up, even if they can't have a traditional relationship with her.
Thursday's closing arguments showed a deep division between Dorn's mother, Susan Cohen, and Dorn's ex-husband.
"She is an unfit grandmother," Greene said at one point, adding that Cohen wants to take on the role of parent whenever the children visit their mother and to fill them with unrealistic expectations that their mother might recover.
Cohen's attorney, Meyer, complained that during a December visit, when the children asked to take home a photo of their mother, Cohen gave them each framed pictures that they clutched tightly. But when they got home, she said, their father hid the photos away in a cabinet.
"He didn't want them to know they had a mother," she said.
The two sides also disagree over just how aware Abbie Dorn is of her surroundings.
Her mother has said she communicates through her laughter and tears and can answer yes or no to questions by blinking.
A neurologist testified earlier in the hearing that Dorn does seem to try to communicate by blinking but doesn't do it consistently.
As the attorneys made their arguments, Dorn's ex-husband sat quietly, listening intently. He smiled but politely declined to discuss the case outside court. His ex-wife's mother listened by phone from her home in South Carolina.
Abbie Dorn, who lives with her parents, was represented by a large photo of herself that was placed in court. It showed her with her long dark hair pulled back, gazing pensively at the camera.
A large photo of her children, wearing sunglasses and seated behind a basketball almost as big as them, was placed next to it. But the judge ordered it removed to protect their privacy when news photographers arrived.
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