Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2014

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Mom holds out hope for reunion

Tamara Schmidt is in prison for her failings as a mother, but she still wants to be a mom.

Three years ago she and her husband left her two daughters, 3 and 10, alone in a trailer in Mesquite and went to gamble. The girls were savagely attacked - the younger one was killed, the older one left paralyzed.

The attackers were looking for revenge because the Schmidts had allegedly ripped them off in a drug deal.

Serving a 4- to 12-year sentence for neglect, Schmidt is clinging to her parental rights.

Courts typically try to bring parents and children together. Last summer Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle left Schmidt's parental rights intact and ordered visitation and counseling for Schmidt and her daughter, Brittney Bergeron.

Hardcastle's order came before Schmidt was sentenced to jail. The judge will revisit the case next week.

In his order, Hardcastle stressed that the reunification process is "generally done through family counseling and/or gradually increased contact between the parent and the child."

But it's arguable if that can be done while a parent is in jail.

Juvenile Division Deputy District Attorney Brigid Duffy said she has never heard of a parent convicted of abuse and neglect being granted visitation rights with the neglected child while serving prison time for the offense.

Duffy declined to comment specifically on the case, but did say that "it's extremely rare that a child is allowed to visit a parent in custody."

She said it wasn't "zero, but not many."

Schmidt's attorney, Steve Caruso, said "there are plenty of people in jail that are allowed to see their kids" and argued that family therapy can be performed in prison.

While Brittney testified that she loved her mother, she said she didn't want to live with her again. She said she wanted to be adopted by her foster parents.

Hardcastle, though, ruled that children "may be reluctant to go home because they remember past events."

He wrote "society's commitment to the parent-child relationship is so great that the parent-child relationship overrules."

Caruso said since Hardcastle issued the order the state is "still not making reasonable efforts toward reunification."

Duffy said that many times imprisoned parents don't see their children who are in the custody of the state because there aren't the resources to take them to the prisons. That shouldn't be an issue in this case, Caruso said, because Schmidt is in North Las Vegas.

The defense attorney said it's his understanding that Brittney is "saying she doesn't want to see her mom" but that's only because the people around her are telling her repeatedly "your mother is no good."

But after Hardcastle's order last summer, Brittney's attorney said the girl just wanted to be adopted and go to "her new home."

Duffy said it was important for the children of imprisoned parents to deal "with the reality of the situation, to come to grip with it somehow because their parent is a part of them."

"We can't tell children their parents are horrible people and shouldn't be a part of their lives," Duffy said.

Hardcastle could do one of any number of things, from reaffirming his order to outlawing any contact at all.

Matt Pordum can be reached at 474-7406 or at [email protected]

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