Little Girl Lost?

Brittany Ann Corcoran, age seven, went "missing" for seven months. She resurfaced with a case of head lice, holes in her socks and nothing settled about what has been and what will become of her...

In February, Jim Corcoran sued Channel 11 for "aiding and abetting" Nikki-Marie Jones's attempt to conceal Brittany from her father. According to Corcoran's attorney, Larry Doherty, Lauck and the station were obligated under the law to ensure Brittany's swift return by reporting her whereabouts to Corcoran or the authorities. Doherty asserts that, to get a big news story that might boost the station's advertising revenues, Channel 11 kept the interview site a secret, thereby allowing Jones to continue hiding Brittany from her father.

Doherty has won handsome judgments in two similar cases against the family, friends and accomplices of so-called "noncustodial" parents who disappeared with their children. Taking on KHOU-TV because its reporter refused to have Nikki Jones arrested is, apparently, unprecedented. It's also a little ironic.

An accomplished self-promoter known for representing people who sue their attorneys, Doherty arranged to contact a Press reporter last month, and in a brief phone interview, ripped into KHOU-TV's journalistic ethics and integrity. Then he offered the reporter what Nikki Jones probably offered Dan Lauck: an exclusive -- in this case, the "untold story" of Jim Corcoran.

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In Doherty's mind, his client's tale would unwind as human interest dressed up as media criticism. The lawyer put a little zing in the idea by intimating that, while she was missing, Brittany Corcoran had traversed the mysterious underground of the Republic of Texas, whose harassment of the legal system with bogus lawsuits speaks to the danger they pose to society.

"They're fighting a holy war," roared Doherty. "They woke up one day and heard they'd won. Now what are they going to do?"

A couple of weeks later, Doherty arranged a meeting between Corcoran and a Press reporter. A solidly built man of average height, with thinning, light-brown hair and a mustache, Corcoran works for Baxter Healthcare as a medical technician. He met Jones in 1989, when he was traveling a lot and she was a limousine driver.

They dated, they made love, they moved in together. She got pregnant. They talked about marriage, but she left. He sought a reconciliation. It failed, and she moved out again. Later, she gave birth to a baby girl in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Her son, Brandon, who was ten years old at the time, helped with the umbilical cord, cleaned up the afterbirth and took care of his mother and sister, who was named Brittany Ann.

From that point, what happened between Jim Corcoran and Nikki Jones is a matter of their individual perspectives. In the eight years since Brittany was born, the nature of her mother and father's relationship, as well as Brittany's childhood, has been shaped largely by the courts.

In the most significant decision to date, on April 15, 1996, 310th District Family Court Judge Lisa Millard signed the order that gave Jim Corcoran sole custody of his daughter. Jones was devastated. For almost three years, Corcoran had ignored his responsibilities to Brittany. When Jones sued him in 1992, he denied paternity. She had no idea that a paternity suit would lead to her losing custody of her daughter to a man who had to be sued before he'd pay child support.

Corcoran contends that he never denied being Brittany's father. In fact, he says, Jones wanted him to relinquish his parental rights. He refused, he says. Later, after he got to know his daughter better, he decided she would be better served under his care, so he sued Nikki Jones for custody.

From the beginning, Corcoran wanted Brittany to know her life would be different and better than it had been with Nikki-Marie Jones. When he brought Brittany home to Bellaire, she was welcomed by her stepmother, Stacy, and a half-brother, Garrett. She was given something she had never had before -- her own room, which overlooks a huge lawn surrounded by trees and a high wrought-iron fence. Clothes, shoes and toys were also awaiting her arrival.

Corcoran wanted others to know he was the all-American dad, as well. Before his daughter came to live with him, Corcoran planted a sign just outside the front door:

"The Corcorans ... Hugs & Kisses & Cookies, too!"

"Nikki told me she was on birth control," Jim Corcoran recalls. "When she got pregnant, I asked her about it. She said, 'I am -- I'm on natural birth control.' "

It's a sunny weekday afternoon in Bellaire. Corcoran has just gotten home from work, still sporting his algae-colored hospital scrubs. The house is quiet except for an occasional splash of activity from Garrett, who is now three years old. Corcoran has been divorced from Stacy since November 1996. They share custody of their son. A slight, pleasant Latina named Mirta takes care of the house and children when Corcoran is gone.

Corcoran announces that Brittany is in the kitchen, doing homework. When he enters the room, she looks up. She has a wide, oval face, high cheekbones that accentuate her large brown eyes and auburn hair, thick but short. She doesn't smile. When Corcoran introduces a visitor, Brittany takes a curious glance, but doesn't speak.

The visitor gives a small wave. "What are you working on?" he asks.
"Homework," she answers, with some impatience and a look that says, "What do you think I'm doing?" After a moment, she says she's doing some math problems, a segue that Corcoran snares effortlessly.

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