When Janet Jenkins’ former partner disappeared with their daughter during a lengthy custody battle, Jenkins filed a lawsuit against her and others alleging they had conspired and aided in the international kidnapping. The SPLC joined the case and, with the assistance of co-counsel, successfully fought to have the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT hate group, added to the case as a defendant.
The couple – Jenkins and Lisa Miller – had a daughter, Isabella, in 2002, while they were in a Vermont civil union. The relationship ended, and Miller moved to Virginia with Isabella. Miller sought to dissolve the civil union, and the Vermont court temporarily granted her custody of Isabella and granted Jenkins visitation rights. With the help of Liberty Counsel, Miller resisted Jenkins’ efforts to maintain a relationship with her daughter, repeatedly denying Jenkins court-ordered visitation with Isabella and fighting a multistate custody battle that lasted for years. When it became clear that a Vermont court might transfer custody to Jenkins, Miller fled with Isabella to Nicaragua. Isabella has not been seen or heard from since.
In 2012, after one co-conspirator was convicted, Jenkins filed suit against Miller and others who appeared to have conspired and assisted in the kidnapping. In 2015, the case was put on hold for two years while another co-conspirator was prosecuted. Ultimately, three co-conspirators were convicted.
In 2016, Jenkins, represented by the SPLC, Sarah Star and Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, asked the federal court in Vermont to lift the stay and – in light of new evidence presented through the criminal prosecutions – to permit them to name Liberty Counsel, as well as Liberty Counsel lawyers Mathew Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as defendants. In 2017, the court granted that request, lifted the stay, and denied defendants’ motions to dismiss the case.
The court’s ruling allows for a full exploration of the roles the Liberty Counsel and its lawyers played in the kidnapping.