Transferring assets

Two teens are shuttled back and forth across the country as their mother and father (belatedly) fight over who gets to keep them

Jared's father enrolled him in the private Alexander-Smith Academy in Houston, an exclusive academy available for problem students of parents wealthy enough to pay the tuition. But any calm collapsed in another fight. It came around the mid-December date of his 17th birthday, after Jim and Franci presented him with a watch valued at a few thousand dollars.

Words were exchanged with Franci -- Theresa says he was defending his mother while the stepmother was savaging her. It escalated to yelling. Then Jim hit his son, either with an open hand or fist. A scuffle followed. Attorneys for Jim described the incident as Jared attacking his father, spitting on him and wrestling him to the floor "while yelling and screaming obscenities at both adults." The father told him to apologize to Franci.

Police were summoned, apparently by Jared, although an officer took no action. Jared went to his room, stuffed his backpack with belongings and kept right on going out the back door. He stayed at a friend's house, then flew to California to be with his mother and sister. There were more sharp arguments in telephone conversations with Jim before he returned to Houston.

Krystal and Jared during happier times in Colorado.
Krystal and Jared during happier times in Colorado.
Krystal and Jared during happier times in Colorado.
David Hollenbach
Krystal and Jared during happier times in Colorado.

Had such violence occurred while he was with his mother, the battery of attorneys for the father would have instantly been in court, seeking immediate removal of Jared. However, the lawyers had their explanation ready for Associate Judge Ellen Shelton: Mom must have made him do it. "The confrontation that occurred can be traced directly to Theresa Crane's longstanding disobedience of this court's orders." The mother, they said, "encourages Jared to defy authority generally and Š show disrespect to the father."

Shelton actually reduced visitation for the mother. And the attorneys for Jim effectively barred the media from a January hearing. They argued successfully to Shelton that a Houston Press reporter should be sworn in as a witness and banished to the hallway. Of course, the reporter was never called as a witness, having already explained to the judge that he could offer no evidence on the case. Then the hearing proceeded about the need for parental accountability and discipline -- Shelton never made the lawyer accountable for his insistence that the newsman was vitally needed as a witness for the hearing.

"You see what I mean?" Theresa said after the session. "No wonder these courts have such a bad reputation -- his lawyers can get away with anything."

As the sophisticated set, they were impeccably attired -- dark tailored suits and the black designer dresses that could double as evening wear. Some were friends of Jim and Franci Crane, a few were assisting in the trial, and others were law associates of the stepmother. They dropped in to the unfolding trial in Judge Warne's court to take in the spectacle of a blood sport.

And they weren't disappointed.

Warren Cole, Jim's attorney, was a member of the slash-and-burn barristers from the notable Lilly and Piro family law firm. Franci, herself an attorney for the upscale Susman Godfrey civil firm, furiously scribbled notes to the questioners. From her seat that backed directly in front of jurors, she vigorously shook her head "no" to dispute many of the responses from the witness stand. There was another specialist, formerly of her law firm, who was the appointed inquisitor of this woman who'd dared challenge their authority to seize the children.

Theresa Crane had gone through three lawyers since losing Jared and was now with her attorney of about 60 days, Kathryn Geiger. In small clusters, Jim and Franci's allies in the spectators' area gawked at this mother. One of the onlookers turned to her friend and ran her index finger alongside her nose, tapping it, then both of them burst into brief subdued laughter. Yep, Theresa was wearing a small diamond stud in her pierced left nostril.

And the gallery grinned widely, displaying impressive dental work in the process, at this woman's answers in two days of questioning. Theresa was not a bad witness -- she was terrible. Jim Crane's legal juggernaut was underemployed in this outing, it seemed. These weren't clever interrogators, nor did they need to be. Not when inquiries like "State your name please" would be enough to trip up this troubled mother with the soft, almost childish voice.

Theresa gave them her name. When they asked if she went by other names, she told them she'd used her middle name Kaye in her early years. Finally, they quizzed her about Shekinah.

The witness explained that, since she had done work with Native Americans on projects, she wanted to take a name that would relate to them. She thought Shekinah was an Indian name. "It turns out to be Jewish," she explained as the handful of spectators bent forward to deliver silent, mock belly laughs.

Similar derision accompanied her explanations on her search, and the quest she led her children on, for higher meaning in life. Wigwams on reservations. Women's rights conferences and the tribe in the jungle. Herbal medicines and all the rest, even a Los Angeles gathering where they were told that water in plastic bottles loses its ability to hydrate humans. Often, her responses brought opposing attorneys to read long transcripts of earlier hearings and contradictory testimony. At one point, Warne himself threatened to call for a perjury review.

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