By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
A 12-year-old girl who has been the subject of a bitter custody dispute between a former same-sex couple is now living in Sharon with her birth mother’s ex-partner.
Her birth mother, who had defied a court order to turn over custody of the girl to her former partner, was taken to Mercer County Jail Wednesday to serve the balance of a 6-month sentence for contempt of court.
After the decision, which Jeannette Rowan probably knew was coming, a friend handed out a statement signed by Rowan in which she defended her actions as the same as any mother would make.
“I am not a criminal,” she said. “I am a mother. I do not think there is another true mother out there who could disagree with the choices I have been forced to make.”
The girl, Jaylie, was born in 2001, when Rowan and Lisa Lewis were a couple.
The girl’s birthfather is Ms. Lewis’ nephew, Jeremy Archer, who is serving a life prison sentence for the 2005 slaying of Kristen Truchan of Shenango Township. He has not participated in the custody proceedings.
After Rowan and Lewis broke up in 2006, Rowan allowed Lewis to visit Jaylie, but terminated the visits in 2007.
Lewis took the case to court and was granted supervised visitation rights. Rowan appealed the decision, but it was upheld.
Rowan filed a petition for relocation, which Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John denied.
She moved anyway, to Oxford, Ohio, near the Indiana border.
Lewis sought to modify the custody order and on Dec. 31, 2012, St. John ordered Rowan to relinquish primary physical custody of Jaylie to Lewis, and that his order be enforced “by any law enforcement agency in the state of Ohio, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any other state.”
The custody is temporary, with Rowan and Lewis to share legal and physical custody.
Lewis had trouble convincing Ohio police to help her enforce the order and subsequently obtained a decision by an Ohio judge ordering enforcement of St. John’s order. Police caught up with Rowan and Jaylie Dec. 20 in Lakewood, Ohio, taking possession of Jaylie until Lewis, who was called in the middle of the night, could make the drive to get her.
“I thought I was going to get a kicking and screaming child,” Lewis said of that night. “Within five minutes, she was laughing and wanting to go to Walmart.”
St. John also ordered that a review hearing be held once Jaylie was living with Lewis. It was held Wednesday.
Lewis testified about her home, her work status, her family support and the doctors and social workers she has talked with to set up care for Jaylie’s physical, emotional and behavioral issues.
“I’m amazed,” Lewis said when asked how Jaylie is doing. “I’m amazed at the leaps and bounds we’ve come in just a few weeks.”
Jaylie is doing more things for herself in the time she has lived in Sharon, Lewis said.
Lewis said she is making arrangements for Jaylie to attend Sharon schools; tracking down records from the cyberschool Jaylie attended in Ohio has delayed enrollment.
Rowan turned over medications and Jaylie’s medication list and other medical information, but Lewis said the ex-lovers still are not communicating in a positive way.
“We tried one time over the phone and it was just screaming,” Lewis said. “There was no point.”
Rowan said Lewis has refused to talk to her outside of referring all questions to Mercer County Children and Youth Services.
Lewis accused Rowan of telling Jaylie that Lewis had kidnapped the girl and was holding her hostage, and not to listen to doctors whom Lewis said had told her to reduce or eliminate some of Jaylie’s medications.
Jaylie is allowed to call Rowan twice a day. Lewis said Jaylie had unlimited calling access to Rowan at first, but she restricted it because of the things she said Rowan was telling the girl, and the late hour of some calls.
Rowan testified that she had long prepared Jaylie for the day she would be turned over to Lewis, “that she would be taken by force.”
Jaylie has “begged” Rowan to come and get the girl, Rowan said, and is holding back on things she wants to say to Rowan because Lewis is there and is recording the calls.
Rowan disputed things Lewis said concerning the feeding of Jaylie and her medical treatments, and said Lewis does not know how to handle Jaylie’s panic attacks or reduce her stress.
Rowan charged that Lewis had not made any attempts to be part of Jaylie’s life outside of the court action and was not involved in Jaylie’s care when Rowan and Lewis were a couple.
“I would like her (Lewis) to be part of Jaylie’s life,” Rowan said.
A CYS social worker testified about observations of Lewis’ home and her interaction with Jaylie and efforts to coordinate the girl’s medical care between Ohio and Pennsylvania doctors.
The girl is “very happy, energetic,” the social worker said.
St. John thanked Rowan for coming to court, knowing it was not a day she was looking forward to.
He noted he has not believed her testimony in the past and said her behavior “demonstrated the opposite” of her claim that she wants Lewis to be a part of Jaylie’s life.
“I understand your desire to protect your daughter,” St. John said. “I don’t accept a lot of your testimony.”
He gave Rowan credit for two days she had spent in jail in 2011, and allowed Rowan to be furloughed to visit Jaylie at CYS’s office or any other place deemed appropriate by the agency.
The judge also ordered that Jaylie remain in Lewis’ custody subject to CYS oversight.
In her written statement, Rowan said St. John’s decisions have amounted to an order “to harm my daughter. Something I am unable to do.”
She also said Jaylie “is being used as a punitive measure for my errors.”
“I take responsibility for my choices and decisions,” Rowan said. “I understand that I had an obligation to obey this court’s order and I understand that I have failed.”