PORTLAND — Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson is the target of a federal lawsuit involving a custody dispute over a 5-year-old girl.

A South Portland man sued Anderson in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, claiming the district attorney used her office inappropriately to get involved in the custody dispute. The lawsuit was filed by Michael Waxman, the attorney for the child’s father, Igor Malenko.

Anderson said she believes it’s the first time a lawyer has sued her in the 20 years she has been the county’s top prosecutor.

She said she is often asked by police departments to interpret child custody orders, and nothing bars her from seeking out a judge and asking what was meant by a given order.

“It informs the analysis on a complaint of kidnapping or parental restraint, and other potential crimes,” she said.

The claim against Anderson stems from an incident Jan. 27 in which Lori Handrahan, who lives in Sorrento and Washington, D.C., tried to take her daughter from the girl’s stepmother as the girl was dropped off at a day-care center in Cape Elizabeth.

Handrahan had a judge’s order saying she is to have visits with the child on the first, third and fourth weekends of each month, and she hadn’t seen the child since May.

The order also says the child’s father, Malenko, is to make “any important decision” regarding the child. He determined that meant he could prevent Handrahan from having unsupervised visits.

Each parent has accused the other of physical and psychological abuse in a case that has a long legal history.

Anderson was asked to look into the issue – she wouldn’t say by whom – and consulted with the judge who issued the order, Jeffrey Moskowitz, to clarify it. She said the order was intended to give Handrahan visitation rights, and that Malenko could not unilaterally take those rights away.

Rather than turn the child over to the mother, Cape Elizabeth police opted to call the state Department of Health and Human Services, which instructed them that evening to allow the child to stay with the father for the time being, according to the lawsuit.

Malenko’s lawsuit says Anderson acted beyond her authority, using her position as a prosecutor to communicate directly with a judge to participate in an ongoing civil dispute. It says her actions deprived Malenko of his constitutional right to family unity and caused emotional distress.

“A prosecutor doesn’t have any standing to do anything in a civil custody dispute,” Waxman said.

Anderson said she is impartial and has not brought any criminal charges in the case, despite repeated allegations by Handrahan. Court orders must be followed, she said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]