Amber Ostrom is like most single mothers. She balances family, home and work as best she can and as hard as she can and, approaches every day with the care of her daughter, Georgia, first on her mind. After all that is what single parents do right? During my multiple interviews of her I learned that she just wants what we all want: a secure, simple, stable, loving and happy life for her child.
Sometimes in life we need help. Financial and health situations arise in all of our lives. Amber was the owner of Plants4Life LLC, a medical marijuana dispensary in Castle Rock, Colorado. Amber’s dispensary was closed after the City of Castle Rock voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in their town. Her story was documented by the show American Weed in the episode, “Banned and Busted”. Amber was faced with immediate financial hardship, but more important, Amber is also a patient.
When Amber was a young child she suffered a serious head injury. Amber developed severe epilepsy as a result and due to Medical cannabis she has been seizure free for almost ten years. The reason she got into the medical cannabis business was to educate and help people who suffer from a variety of serious diseases that cannabis has been known to help. After all she is walking proof that cannabis works.
Amber decided what was best for her and her daughter was to move to Arizona. Amber went to work in a Medical Cannabis dispensary in the Phoenix area and, due to the financial hardship she faced, she reached out to her step-brother Tom Graham, who lives in Hays, KS. Amber figured if she could get just a little help for her and Georgia, then she would be able to get back on her feet right away.
She asked Tom and his wife Kacey if Georgia could live with them for the next school semester so Amber could work more hours and get their lives back in order. Tom and Kacey agreed to help, and Tom suggested that, as part of the plan, they execute a mutual consent agreement in case. As Tom would say to Amber;
“In case anything happens where a decision needed to be made right away like an injury or something”
Amber trusted her brother and was happy she could rely on him for help in this situation. Tom never filed the consent agreement in probate court according to sources. Apparently, Tom had his own agenda.
Tom Graham is 29 years old. Tom is Ambers step brother. When Tom’s niece came to live with him he decided to implement his agenda. Tom actions indicate that he had no intention of returning Georgia to her mother. Tom does not approve of Amber’s choice of medicine, namely, Medical Cannabis. Using Medical Cannabis has kept Amber seizure free, and continues to do so.
Tom Graham is also a police officer for the City of Hays, someone who has taken the oath to protect and serve and to follow the rule of law. Tom actions in this matter also indicate that he has little regard for the law.
Amber made arrangements with Tom to pick Georgia up after the last day of the school year. Prior to leaving for Kansas, Amber received a phone call from Ellis County Sheriff’s Office informing her that Georgia was placed into State Custody.
Amber arrived in Kansas and was served with allegations that included claims she was a marijuana user, she had abandoned her child, and her employment at a medical marijuana dispensary, in Arizona, was a “dangerous” job. Medical Marijuana and Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are legal and regulated in Arizona.
It was obvious to Amber that Tom had sought help from the people he worked with, including the County Attorney, Charlene Brubaker, local members of Child Protective Services and his fellow police officers. Amber had committed no crime. Had not broken any laws at any time. Amber had never even been accused of a crime, let alone convicted. No allegations of abuse were alleged to have been committed, and yet Tom persuaded Ellis County to file this action, even forcing Amber to defend herself against false abandonment allegations.
When Amber went to the Ellis County Courthouse to answer the Child in Need of Care action filed by the State, she first had to submit to a urine test for the presence of drugs in your system at the Probation Department across the street. Amber described being treated with hostility right away by the person taking the test. Since she had never had one before in her life, she was not aware of, nor ready for, having to give a urine sample with someone literally watching her fill the urine cup and “wipe herself”. Amber showed her Medical Marijuana Patient Card to the Probation Officer. She also informed the Probation Officer that she would, in fact, test positive for THC since she uses it medically to control her epilepsy.
On May 21, the Ellis County Judge ruled that Georgia would remain in temporary custody of Kansas. Amber describes the Judge’s comments as follows:
“I understand how things are in Arizona but under Kansas Law I do not feel comfortable releasing her to you”
Amber now was faced with another hearing date in Kansas within the next 30 days.
Kansas did not have jurisdiction to do this under the Uniform Child Custody and Enforcement Act which states clearly:
The UCCJEA vests “exclusive [and] continuing jurisdiction” for child custody litigation in the courts of the child’s “home state,” which is defined as the state where the child has lived with a parent for six consecutive months prior to the commencement of the proceeding (or since birth for children younger than six months). If the child has not lived in any state for at least six months, then a court in a state that has (1) “significant connections” with the child and at least one parent and (2) “substantial evidence concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships” may assume child-custody jurisdiction. If more than one state has “significant connections” and “substantial evidence…”, the courts of those states must communicate and determine which state has the most significant connections to the child. A court which has made a child-custody determination consistent with UCCJEA has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over the determination until either (1) that court determines that neither the child, the child’s parents, nor any person acting as a parent has a significant connection with the State that made the original order and that substantial evidence is no longer available in the State concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships, or (2) that court or a court of another State determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not reside in the State that initially made the child custody order.
The UCCJEA replaced a previous Uniform Act, the “Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act”, primarily because the old act was inconsistent with the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act when determining proper jurisdiction for initial custody determinations and because of contradictory interpretations of the PKPA. The UCCJEA corrects these problems. The UCCJEA also added uniform procedures to register and enforce child-custody orders across state lines.
In this case, this is very significant. For example, Amber does not live in Kansas. Nor does Georgia’s father, who resides in Missouri. Further, Georgia had not resided in Kansas for six months. Without more significant allegations and certainly without the presence of a parent living inside State borders, A Kansas State Attorney even bringing this action is such a legal overreach that it should not have any force in law, and the Judge in the case should have immediately thrown the case.out. Georgia’s father has never been a part of this action. Child Protective Services knew this and knows the law. At least, they should know the law. The UCCJEA is not some trivial statute that rarely comes up. This law is the cornerstone of child custody law that exists today in this country. So we have a police officer step-brother making allegations of parenting against his sister, who is legally medicating herself and working for a legal employer, and a County Attorney, Child Protective Services and a Judge that is helping him do this. Justice is apparently not practiced in Hays, Kansas.
At the next hearing, Amber was again tested for drug use and she again tested positive for THC. She again presented her Medical Marijuana patient card to no avail. Kansas was awarded custody of Georgia on the basis that Amber tested positive for THC and that “she worked too much leaving Georgia under the care of her family members when at work. The court further ordered that Amber submit to a DCF Case Plan which would include an Interstate Compact Request to Arizona to investigate Amber. Amber met with DCF and received her “task list” from them and returned to Arizona.
Amber appealed the court’s decision.
Amber describes the appellant process as an unknown. Her court-appointed attorney, Don Anderson II, handled the appeal, she discusses, but she never received any of the paperwork involved. Nor has she read the decision that she states was rendered some time in November she was told, denying her appeal. At press time, this reporter has not seen the appellate decision, which I am told was rendered by District Court Judge Bouker.
Amber has had to spend all of her money, money she was earning to get back on her feet to make a stable life for her and her daughter, to see her daughter, to continue to go to court hearings in Kansas, to pay for programs and fees. Yet, at no time has she broken any laws or failed to comply with the court order of a court that should not be exercising jurisdiction in this case in the first place.
This year alone, at the demand of her step-brother, Amber has had to get a mental evaluation and a drug and alcohol evaluation. This was not due to any “behavior ” issues, but because her brother demanded it to DCF before he would enter into any type of mediation, mediation that he is not legally allowed to be a part of because he is not a parent of Georgia. I have worked on many child custody cases and I have never seen such a miscarriage of justice by a jurisdiction on a matter where no other parent has brought an action or is even involved. Amber is now facing the possibility of the court terminating her parental rights if she does not move to Kansas. A ninety-day clock started in early June for Amber to make the move. The Court also ordered that she could not live at the home of her relatives anymore and had to get her own place. She did that, and now the court is saying she has to move to Kansas. Remember, she has broken no laws and done nothing wrong. That’s okay, we order that you break your new lease and come to Kansas.
Amber started a GoFundMe campaign and her brother sought to have a restraining order issued against her. He was afraid for his privacy, Amber told me. The Judge refused to issue it, but Amber has not started it back up again until now, because her court-appointed attorney told her not to.
Amber heard about attorney Sarah Swain, who I reported last month, was attorney for Shona Banda. Banda is the medical marijuana patient whose daughter was taken away and was subsequently charged with a number of felonies related to her medical marijuana usage in Garden City. Sarah, who specializes in Criminal Law, not child custody cases, agreed to meet with Amber and has been acting as a consultant to both her and her attorney of record. A conversation I had with Sarah prompted me to look into this case and speak with Amber.
Amber has decided to go forward with the GoFundMe Campaign and ask for help. She is working with the Solutions Institute, a consulting firm that offers help in these areas, in getting the word. out. She has no choice. Adding to her financial burden now is a support judgment against her by the State of Kansas to pay for the food stamps and Medicaid that her step-brother apparently applied for and received for Georgia. Amber was under the incorrect impression that her court-appointed attorney represented her in this matter, so she forwarded all notices to him. He did not represent her and she was notified by her employer that her wages would start being garnished this past pay check.
It is hard to remain objective when reporting a story like Amber’s. It is crystal clear to me that what is going on here is wrong legally, morally and any other way one can imagine. No one has the right to interfere with the parent child relationship absent good cause. Absolutely no cause exists here. Further, the law does not support this action either
I wish her well and hope her and Georgia are back together soon.