Federal court permits Vermont lesbian to sue Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver for role in international kidnapping

Janet Jenkins has been fighting for years for the return of her daughter, Isabella, and to bring those responsible for Isabella’s kidnapping to justice.

In 2002, Jenkins and Lisa Miller, her then-partner, had Isabella. But Miller later renounced her lesbianism and moved to Virginia with their daughter. With the help of Liberty Counsel – identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group – Miller resisted Jenkins’ efforts to maintain a relationship with her daughter, fighting a multi-state custody battle that lasted for years. When it became clear that a Vermont court might award custody to Jenkins, Miller – rather than complying with a court order – fled with Isabella to Nicaragua, where Miller and Isabella apparently remain in hiding to this day.

Jenkins filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Miller and others who had conspired to assist in the kidnapping, but the case was put on hold in favor of criminal prosecutions against some of the conspirators. This fall, Jenkins, represented by Sarah Star, Esq. as well as attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, asked the federal court in Vermont to lift the stay, and, in light of new evidence adduced through the criminal prosecutions, to permit them to name Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, as well as Liberty Counsel lawyers Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as defendants. On Monday, the court issued a 61-page order granting that request and lifting the stay.

“I’m pleased that the court today expressly confirmed that the kidnapping was an affront to our client’s rights not just as a mother, but also as a former member of a same-sex couple whose rights the Constitution protects,” said Sarah Star, Esq., who also served as Ms. Jenkins' attorney during the custody dispute. “The court acknowledged its obligation to protect those rights and to ensure that we can pursue Ms. Jenkins’ claims expeditiously, which we intend to do.”

“The court has given the green light to a full exploration of Liberty Counsel’s role in the kidnapping of Isabella, as well as the role of the Liberty Counsel lawyers,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are pleased the court recognized that our allegations suggested ‘significant wrongdoing’ by these lawyers, including Mat Staver, and we will move swiftly to learn more about their wrongdoing and to hold everyone involved in the kidnapping to account.”

"We are gratified that we can now move this case forward on behalf of our client Janet,” said Fritz Langrock, partner at Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP.