From Capetown to Cleveland

A South African woman loses custody of her son and learns about family justice, American style.

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Howie Day, with Charlotte Martin and Jump Little Children Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Avenue 8 p.m. Thursday, October 9, $13 advance, $15 day of show, 216-241-5555.
Haybrie Ross met McDonald's millionaire Warren Anderson in the South African summer of December 1994. In America, she has since learned, the seasons are reversed -- December is wintertime.

In the years to follow, Ross would come to view many things in America as backward, particularly the justice system. Before meeting Anderson, she would not have believed that her future included transatlantic flights, time spent in an INS holding cell, and a legal battle in a foreign land to gain back custody of her only child.

Today, Ross lives in a two-bedroom apartment near Fairmount Circle. The room lined with Tonka toys and board games is her seven-year-old's. It is neat and tidy -- too neat and tidy for a little boy's turf. That is because Hassan (at his parent's request, his name has been changed) never sleeps there anymore.

He visits three afternoons each week. Life has been this way for almost a year, ever since Anderson, the child's father, was granted temporary custody by Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. Now Ross has only those three days to look forward to. That, and the January court hearing to determine once and for all who will keep Hassan. "My only hope is that the court will reverse its terrible mistake," she says.

Man meets girl
It all started in Africa. Cape Town, located on the southernmost tip, was the first modern city on the continent. If noisy, dirty, dynamic Johannesberg is the brash brother to the north, then Cape Town, nestled between the mountains and the sea, with its white-sand beaches and lush gardens, has a poet's soul.

Warren Anderson, owner of Anderson-Dubose, was gaining familiarity with both cities. His company, one of the largest black-owned businesses in the U.S., supplies beef, potatoes, and plastic Happy Meal toys to hundreds of McDonald's restaurants in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was in South Africa to open another branch.

On that particular evening eight years ago, 18-year-old Ross, her older sister, and their sister-in-law were working at the upscale Mount Nelson Hotel. Helping to organize the Black Management Forum would earn them a little extra money. The crème de la crème of the black South African financial sector was there, as well as important-looking visitors from Europe and the United States.

When dessert was served, a man with a moustache introduced himself to Haybrie. Warren Anderson, then 43, was worldly and charismatic, and his attentions flattered the Protea Technical College graduate. "She was looking my way," remembers Anderson, "so I went over. She was beautiful . . . I was smitten."

They went out for drinks afterward, and so their romance began. When he returned to America, Ross sent a friendly greeting card to the Solon address on his business card. Soon she was receiving weekly calls from across the Atlantic, and the next time Anderson was in Cape Town, the two were a couple. Melanie Coetzee, Ross's sister, says their parents -- especially their father -- were not pleased. "They are simple Christian people," Melanie says. "They first saw him as a too-mature American."

But when Anderson visited the Rosses' little house in Mitchell's Plain, a working-class township, Ross's mom was won over by his humble marriage proposal. Dad was outvoted. "It was a heavy gold ring that he gave her," says Melanie. "You know how sisters are -- we counted all the little diamonds. There were 30!"

Anderson would later say that he never proposed, nor did he buy a ring. These are among many details of the Rosses' story that he directly contradicts. In the end, however, it really doesn't matter. What's important is that together they made a child. This is a story about a little boy.

Ma se kind
Hassan Anderson is playing a game on his mom's old PC. He is pretending to be a builder working on a house, trying to put the right-sized piping in the right places in the kitchen and bathroom.

"Hassan, you have a letter here," says Ross. Hassan watches the screen with open-mouthed absorption. Does he want her to open it? Mom asks. Hassan nods, just perceptibly.

The letter is addressed to Master Hassan Anderson. It's from the lady who will soon be his second-grade teacher at the exclusive Hawken School in Lyndhurst. Ross reads aloud, in her silvery accent. Mrs. Dasher hopes he's had the chance to travel or play sports this summer. She can't wait for school to start, because "There is so much to learn."

Hassan's eyes do not leave the screen. He works at fitting an awkward pipe.

Ross tries to explain why the teacher addressed the letter to "Master" Hassan. "It's a private school," she says. "It's a good school."

There is something about her dark-reddish coloring and sharp features that looks Mediterranean. A decade ago, when South Africa was still under apartheid, Ross would have been considered "colored." But in the new South Africa, she is "mixed-race."

Unusually handsome, Hassan is on the tall side and wiry, with expressive black eyebrows. There is something in the 7-year-old's bearing, in his gentle, somber expression, that could be described as aristocratic.

Saccharine music seeps from the living room. A plump woman with a wavy blond perm is watching soap operas on the couch. She's an employee of Anderson's; it is her job to "supervise" mother and son. Ross is not permitted to be alone with her child. Ever.

"She is supposed to make sure I don't take Hassan back home," Ross says quietly. "But how could I? I have just enough money for bills. I could never even buy a plane ticket!"

Hassan has finished his renovations. "I can speak Spanish and Afrikaans," he suddenly announces.

"Hola. Como estas?" I ask.

"Not bad," he replies in hesitant Spanish.

"How do you say that in Afrikaans?"

"I don't know. But I can say 'Ja'man!'"

"What's that mean?"

"ŒHey you!'"

"How do you say, 'Hello, how are you?'" I ask.

He shrugs, and then comes the soft reply.

"Ma se kind!"

"What does that mean?" I ask him.

Ross smiles sadly. "Mommy's boy," she translates.

More than a dozen 16-wheelers are parked outside the Anderson-Dubose warehouse in Solon. Several are emblazoned with a picture of an enormous McGriddle.

In his office overlooking the parking lot, Warren Anderson sits with Tom Andrejewski, his publicist, and James Cahn, his lawyer. A tape recorder runs while he explains how he came to the decision, 13 years ago, to leave a managerial post in broadcasting sales for hamburger patties. To a good salesman, it seems, the product is secondary to the sale.

Anderson says he was sick of working under bosses. After a blowup with management at a TV station in Connecticut, followed by a successful wrongful termination suit involving race discrimination, Anderson was ready to take control of his earnings. He dedicated himself to learning the fast-food distributing business, serving a long, unpaid apprenticeship until the massive Martin-Brower Company, which controls about 25 McDonald's distributorships across the world, agreed to take him seriously. When the Cleveland distributorship became available, his parents lent him some money, and he and his friend, Steve Dubose, bought a controlling interest.

By 1995, the year Hassan was conceived, Anderson had bought out his partner's interest, as well as Martin-Brower's, to become the sole proprietor. By 2002, he'd report sales of over $197 million.

Anderson gropes for the right words to explain his brief romance with Ross. When they first met, Ross seemed ambitious, he says. She said she was modeling and wanted to continue in London. She wanted to go to college. She seemed goal-oriented, "like someone who had the potential to really . . . blossom under the right conditions," he says.

It seems a telling remark. A cynic might call it patronizing.

She visited him twice in the short time they were together. It was during her second visit that Anderson began to feel she was not the person he'd thought. She watched lots of TV. She grew annoyed when he worked past five. "I was just getting under-way then," he says, gesturing suddenly with his hands.

Anderson is a man of controlled, choppy movements. He inflates his cheeks and pops his eyes open wide -- like an aquarium fish -- when annoyed. But dressed in jeans, he looks younger than 51. It's not hard to see what a young woman, even one as striking as Ross, would see in him. "She just didn't understand how much work it takes to build . . . something like this," he finishes. "She became more of a liability than an asset."

Ross and Anderson's love affair would certainly end unhappily, but Ross attributes its failure, in part, to a lack of fidelity. While visiting him in Cleveland, she says she was on the receiving end of harassing phone calls from other women. "His old girlfriends would call and say, 'Don't you want to know where he really is right now? Don't you care?'"

There never would be a wedding. By the time Ross returned to South Africa, they agreed it was over. Then she discovered that she was pregnant.

Anderson wanted her to have an abortion. "I suspected she [got pregnant] on purpose," he says. "I let her know that . . . it wasn't going to work."

The 19-year-old decided to have the baby on her own. She ended up with unexpected support. Anderson's mother, Dorothy, a former executive at the Institute of International Education, bought her a maternity wardrobe. His dad, Edward, a former diplomat who had been stationed in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, was there to witness his grandson's birth. The Andersons and the Rosses now had something real in common, but the two families were also a study in differences.

One family was wealthy, one was not. One was learned, one was not. One was black, one was not. But the two clans came together over a new baby boy, and in the months before Hassan was born, Anderson put aside his suspicions to embrace the son he'd initially rejected. He bought Ross and her mother a new house in a better neighborhood. He bought them a car to drive the infant to the doctor. When Ross -- a very inexperienced driver -- crashed it, he immediately replaced it.

In the years to follow, whenever Anderson had business in South Africa, he visited the baby as well. He also made it possible for Ross's family to visit the States.

But misunderstandings between family members would mimic the coming disintegration of Anderson and Ross's relationship. For the first four years of Hassan's life, they had an arrangement that worked, at least on the surface. Ross did the bulk of the caretaking from South Africa, and Anderson provided the means for her to be a nearly full-time mom. In the summer, he rented an apartment for them in Cleveland, where they would stay for months.

"But through it all, Haybrie thought she should be married to Gene [Anderson's nickname]," says his older sister, Cheryl. "So there was always this underlying tension. We treated her like family, but it was never enough."

Ross says that without formal child-support arrangements, Anderson was free to use his cash in a punitive way. When she did as he asked, he'd write a check. When she refused, he reduced or withheld money.

Anderson sees things differently. He estimates giving Ross $20,000 to $40,000 annually for the first few years of Hassan's life. When she moved to Cleveland, he says, he gave her more.

It is difficult to estimate the amount of child support a court would ask a multi-millionaire to pay. The state guidelines top out at those earning $150,000 a year. One Cleveland lawyer says parents have successfully argued for enormous amounts. But there is a countermovement afoot, in which courts have decided that even if dad is a billionaire, no kid needs 100 grand. One can only buy so many Legos and Froot Loops, the argument goes. Excess payments amount to spousal support.

The idea of child vs. spousal support is key to understanding Anderson's motives, says Joanne Brady, Ross's court-appointed lawyer. As long as Ross had custody, Anderson had no choice but to support her as well as his son -- they were a package deal. And as long as Ross had custody, there was no way to get her out of his financial life.

Passport to Cleveland
Until Hassan was about 4, Ross and Anderson were operating on what appears to be good faith. After Ross spent the summer in a Lakewood apartment he had rented for mother and son, Anderson says, he persuaded Ross to return to Cleveland on a two-year student visa. It was something he'd urged her to do in the past. At one point, he says, he paid off her debts and arranged everything, and then she simply didn't show.

But this time, with the encouragement of her mom, Ross overcame her trepidation. Anderson helped her navigate the immigration bureaucracy, presenting himself as her financial sponsor. By August of 2000, mother and son had relocated to University Heights. Ross, 24, was now a student at Tri-C.

But soon after settling in, Ross was second-guessing her decision. In class, she experienced culture shock. She says Anderson invited her to socialize, but then, when she came aboard his yacht, he criticized her appearance and parenting in front of his wealthy friends. She felt humiliated.

In October 2000, when Anderson petitioned the court for a shared parenting agreement, Ross finally understood why he so persistently sought her return to America. "Ever since he tricked [us] into coming here, he and his lawyers have been working to break the maternal bond. He wants Hassan to himself."

James Cahn, Anderson's attorney, says there never was a plot to separate mother and son. The move was a response to Ross's behavior. Whenever she got mad, she threatened to take Hassan home for good. And when she wanted more money, Anderson says, she wouldn't let him see Hassan at all.

Losing Hassan for good "was a real possibility," he says. "In South Africa, fathers have no rights."

But Anderson didn't stop there. Ross's attorney says he entered her apartment and lifted her passport, along with Hassan's. At the same time, he obtained a court order preventing the pair from leaving Cuyahoga County. She was, in essence, a captive in America. "He had no right!" Ross says. "I am a South African citizen. My son was born in South Africa. We had the right to go home whenever we wanted!"

For all his success, Anderson appears to seek out partners of relatively humble stature. Police and court records indicate Anderson has a history of colliding with women over money and lost love. In 1996, he sued Tamra Long, an ex-girlfriend, for $20,000. He wanted back the money he said he had lent her for the down payment on a Summit County condo. In June 1999, he sued Patty Lupica, another ex, for $7,244. He lent her cash, he said in court. Lupica thought the money was a gift.

That same year, he was also involved in what he calls a "poisonous relationship." He never sued Rhonda Geib, but she filed a report with the Aurora Police, claiming he broke her wrist and thumb during one of their fights. She also accused him of cocaine use and illegal gun possession. Police never filed charges.

Anderson calls Geib a vindictive liar. "A black man beating up a white woman? The police would've arrested me on the spot! Look at Kobe Bryant!"

A half-second passes while Anderson glances at his attorney. "O.J. Simpson," Cahn adds, without irony.

Anderson admits to having "dabbled" (his publicist's word) in recreational drugs -- "I'm a child of the '60s!" he says -- but nothing more.

Yet a 2001 Aurora police report chronicles a strange incident involving a neighbor in Anderson's gated Barrington subdivision. Mary Ann Roberts called police around 8 p.m. to report that a man (later identified as Anderson), naked from the waist down, was attempting to open her back door. He told her he was "looking for his hotel."

When police arrived, Anderson, sitting dazed on the curb, said he'd been robbed and his car stolen. The police, however, noticed his black Mercedes wrecked in a nearby cul-de-sac. After listening to several variations of the story, officers concluded he'd been less than truthful. A public indecency charge was eventually dismissed, but he was fined $100 for disorderly conduct.

The latest incident was less dramatic, but nearly as odd. In April 2002, police found the mother of Anderson's second child, parked in front of his home at 11 p.m. Having been there for hours, she told police she felt certain Anderson was inside and somehow incapacitated. Police investigated and then ordered her away. Afterward, a night watchman told Aurora police officer Joseph Chambers that he believed Anderson had been home all along -- with female company. Anderson says they were mistaken.

This American life
The result of Anderson's court petition was a shared parenting agreement. He was ordered to return the passports, and Ross and Hassan could return to South Africa to visit, but only with Anderson's consent. More important: Cuyahoga County was established as the child's "habitual residence" for two years -- the time period Ross had to complete schooling at Tri-C.

A year and a half went by. Hassan attended a private school, lived with his mother in University Heights, and saw his dad, mostly on the weekends. Ross had a difficult time balancing Hassan's schedule with her classes, so Anderson hired a caregiver to help get Hassan home in the afternoons. Sometimes Anderson's mother flew in from Phoenix to help, but the relationship between the two parents worsened.

Anderson says that, even with the extra help, Ross failed to keep Hassan on schedule. Sometimes she sent him to school out of dress code, sometimes without the correct supplies. There were too many days when Hassan didn't get there at all, he says.

Ross had no idea how to budget, continues Anderson, and seemed unable to prioritize bills. Moreover, she continued to insist on more money for herself and her family back home. One big blowup involved the Cape Town house. He bought it because he wanted a good home for Hassan. But now that Ross and Hassan were in Cleveland, he saw no reason to let the Ross family live there rent-free. Ross's mother, Cynthia, was evicted.

Lawyer Brady says that if Ross wasn't at her best at this point, she had good reason. She didn't want to be in the States, but she had no choice. She felt like a prisoner in her apartment, dependent and alone.

In Cape Town, you look out the window and you see life, Ross says wistfully. You see girls walking to the market and children playing. Her sister Melanie puts the difference between Cleveland and Cape Town more succinctly: The culture is warmer and less formal. In South Africa, Melanie says, "We have so many friends and extended family! So many cousins just Hassan's age, and when we all get together, we love it. We don't have these prearranged events . . . If a guest comes, we never send her away because it's an inconvenient time. We make some tea!"

But with the Anderson family, Ross says, "Money is the only important thing." Between the two families, that charge would become a resounding echo.

Back to Africa
By July of last year, Ross was more than ready to go home. She was no closer to a degree, but she no longer cared. She wanted to leave, and she wanted Hassan with her. But the shared-parenting agreement required her to get Anderson's permission.

Anderson, afraid of losing Hassan, did not want her to take the boy. But Ross insisted -- she wouldn't leave the country without her child. Anderson gave her a new contract to sign.

The "Agreed Judgment Entry," dated August 2, 2002, established Cuyahoga County as Hassan's "permanent habitual residence" under the Hague Convention, an international agreement with a section devoted to the resolution of international child-custody disputes. It allowed her to return to South Africa with Hassan, but only for a short visit. If the pair did not board a return flight on August 24, the contract stated, Anderson could go to South Africa and bring Hassan back.

Brady, who was not her lawyer at the time, says Ross didn't fully understand the document. So, with borrowed money, she consulted attorney Bruce Bogart. Ross says he told her that although he "didn't know much about international law," it seemed she didn't have any choice. (Bogart declined to comment.) Ross signed the contract with deep reservations. The next day, she and Hassan boarded a jet.

Big guns
Once in Cape Town, Ross met with South African lawyers, who felt the contract may have been invalid. With their help, Ross drew up a document of her own, outlining what she thought it would take for her to go back to the States. She would continue to co-parent with Anderson, but she did not want to feel so dependent on him.

She wanted a set amount of money she could depend on, whether he approved of her that week or not. She wanted a car registered in her name, not one of his company cars that he could take away at will. She wanted Hassan to live in a house with enough space to run and play, not an apartment. She wanted airfare to South Africa each summer. She wanted compensation for past legal fees. She wanted $8,000 a month.

At first glance, it seems a lot to ask. Then again, Anderson's company had estimated earnings of $197 million last year. Though he has yet to disclose his personal income in court, $96,000 annually would seem to be below the percentage of income most fathers are ordered to pay, according to state guidelines.

Anderson's side nonetheless deemed it excessive. His neighbor, Steve Nobil, tried for years to mediate between the two. But when he heard Ross's demands, he washed his hands of her. "Haybrie wanted, in essence, to live the life," he says. "She wanted to live at the same [standard of living] that Warren does. It was unreasonable."

Anderson considered it extortion. When Ross telephoned on the 23rd to say that her lawyers planned to challenge the contract and that she would not be leaving the next day, Anderson was furious. He filed the Hague Convention paperwork, flew to South Africa, took Hassan, and brought Ross before a judge. The South African High Court ruled that according to the Hague, Hassan must return to America. If Ross wanted to fight the validity of the contract, she must do so in Cuyahoga County, in the court where it was signed. Ross had no choice but to agree.

In the midst of the fracas, Anderson took Hassan to the emergency room for burns on his neck. Ross said that while running around with his cousins, Hassan bumped into a tray of hot tea. But Anderson suspected something more sinister. He would use the incident against her later, stating that the attending physician suspected abuse.

However, Dr. Marcus Brauer of the Cape Town Caapstad Medi-Clinic says that whenever physicians suspect child abuse, they must contact authorities. Although hospital policy prevents him from discussing Hassan, the doctor says he has not reported a child-abuse case in three years.

After a brief skirmish at the airport -- where Cynthia Ross told South African police that Anderson pushed her in the chest when she tried to say goodbye to her grandson -- the trio boarded a flight to Atlanta. (Anderson denies pushing Ross's mother, claiming the Rosses were purposefully delaying, trying to make them miss the flight.) Anderson bought business-class tickets for himself and Hassan, while Ross rode in coach.

When they arrived in Atlanta and went through customs, Anderson moved quickly through the line for American citizens, while Ross was delayed. He notified an INS agent that Ross had "abducted" their son and threatened to do so again. He and Hassan then flew on to Cleveland.

Ross was placed in an INS holding cell. "He wanted to have me deported," she says. "He didn't care about Hassan never seeing his mother again."

After hours of questioning, INS released her, and Ross flew on to Cleveland. When she arrived, Anderson e-mailed her to say he intended to "hold on" to Hassan "for a while." Ross's South African lawyers asked Anderson to return Hassan to her custody, otherwise Interpol -- the international police organization -- would be notified.

Instead, Anderson obtained an emergency custody order from the Cuyahoga Juvenile Court. But Ross was not present; her side was never heard.

It would seem a dangerous way to decide the fate of a small child, especially one who had spent his entire life under his mother's care. And given the nature of custody battles, in which both sides tend to transform the most benign acts into evidence of neglect, the unchallenged arguments of one parent run great risk of being nowhere close to the truth. But Magistrate Elizabeth Howe and Judge Joseph Russo nonetheless gave Anderson temporary custody. Moreover, Ross could no longer see Hassan without supervision.

In one fell swoop, she lost the child she had raised largely on her own for six years -- without the chance to defend herself.

According to an attorney not connected with the case, it is unusual for juvenile court to grant custody orders without hearing both sides. Such orders are ripe for abuse, particularly in situations where one parent seeks to gain an advantage, says attorney Ellen Mandell, who is unfamiliar with details of the Ross case. They're usually reserved for extreme situations of abuse and neglect. But for reasons that remain a mystery, in this case an exception was made.

Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora, while unable to comment on this specific case, says emergency custody can be granted in cases where a child could be taken from the court's jurisdiction. The court also tends to err on the side of caution. "If we didn't, and something were to happen, we'd end up looking pretty dumb," he says. Besides, the decision can always be reversed at a subsequent hearing.

But in this case, there was no hearing. Ross's former lawyers failed to challenge the order in the allotted time. For a while, she was able to borrow money to pay for representation. But when the cash ran out, she was assigned court-appointed attorneys. Somewhere along the line, someone forgot to file an appeal.

Dear Grimace . . .
On December 12, 2002, soon after the emergency order was granted, Ross wrote a long, emotional letter to local McDonald's franchise owners, detailing her personal history with Anderson and her feelings about his character. Anderson swiftly reacted to the paragraph rehashing an ex-girlfriend's allegations -- drugs, illegal gun possession, and physical abuse -- with a restraining order and a $100,000 lawsuit (which is still pending). But the most telling thing about the five-page letter is its tone.

The document highlights the discrepancy in sophistication created by their 25-year age difference. It also shows the imbalance between a man resourceful enough to build a small empire and a woman whose experience in finance and law is limited to secretarial work in Cape Town.

"I tried to speak with him about a raise in my allowance and he raised the stipend to $400," she wrote, "[but] the emotional price was too steep . . . What I cannot understand is my son was born out of wedlock, why does he feel he has rights to my son?"

Ross's use of words like "allowance" seems illustrative of her relationship with Anderson. Rather than estranged parents working for the good of their son, they interacted more like stern father and rebellious daughter.

It's only 1:30 p.m., but Joanne Brady is exhausted. The week before, she was in a car accident, and now her foot is in a blue walking cast. Her two teenagers are starting school, she has about 15 other cases to work on, and her husband is starting to feel neglected. What's more, she's been working nights and weekends on a case that seems hopeless, for which she'll be paid very little. Much like public-school teachers, court-appointed lawyers are paid a flat rate notoriously out-of-sync with energy expended.

"And no matter what I attempt -- nothing," she says in the lobby of Juvenile Court. "I just haven't been able to do anything for [Ross]. Not a single thing."

Last December, when Brady was assigned to the case, the deadline for appealing the emergency custody order was already months past, but she filed the paperwork anyway. An official familiar with the case said that, although Magistrate Howe was technically correct in ruling Brady's motion "untimely," others would have taken a broader view of the situation. There were, after all, sizable mitigating factors: Ross's faulty legal representation, her unfamiliarity with the U.S. legal system, and the fact that she speaks English as a second language.

On the opposite end of the food chain sits Anderson's lawyer, James Cahn. A partner at the well-known firm of Hermann, Cahn & Schneider, Cahn specializes in divorce cases in which at least one party is wealthy. According to his firm's website, Cahn once served as the arbitrator in a case involving $60 million in real estate. Unlike Brady, he is quite used to swimming with the big fish.

On this day, Brady has reason to be discouraged. The two lawyers have just finished a pretrial hearing wherein the judge selected a single South Africa "expert" to testify at the custody trial scheduled for January. Anderson is asking for sole custody, and this trial will determine Hassan's future.

Apparently, more than parenting will be under scrutiny: the fitness of two countries and cultures will also come under the jurisdiction of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. The South Africa scholar -- a Ph.D. located by Anderson's mother, who will be paid by Anderson himself -- isn't likely to take a positive view of life in Cape Town, Brady thinks.

The Africa expert is not the only "impartial" professional going before the judge. The court also ordered Anderson to pay for the requisite psychiatrist's evaluation, as well as for Hassan's attorney. Hassan was also assigned a guardian ad litem, a man charged with determining his emotional needs. It's the job of the guardian to observe a child's interactions with both parents and then make a recommendation as to which parent is the most fit. In Ross's eyes, because Hassan's guardian, attorney, and evaluating psychiatrist are all being paid by Anderson, their judgments are predetermined.

It seems that she is beginning to understand the ways of American justice.

Donald Ramsey, a visiting judge with an irregular schedule, has set the trial date for January 26. "That's far too long," says a lawyer who asked not to be named. "The fact that the child has already been living under emergency orders for a year constitutes, in my opinion, abuse."

Nevertheless, Hassan will spend at least the next four months with Anderson and continue to have only supervised visits with his mother. Nobil, Anderson's neighbor, thinks the arrangement is for the best. "Hassan has a great lifestyle," he says. "Warren cares about him, and Zsa Zsa [the nanny] is a quality woman."

But Terry Gilbert, a high-profile lawyer with a reputation for doing pro bono work, says the fact that the court stripped a good mother of custody is a perversion of a system designed to protect children. The court has sold its judgment to the highest bidder, in his opinion. "Warren Anderson has money, he knows people," says Gilbert. "He has PR, he can flood the court with paperwork. This child should be with his mother, but the legal system was turned against her."

After all, it seems that Ross's only sins were that she could be a disorganized homemaker and that she may have asked a millionaire for too much support.

In the meantime, she sits in her little kitchen alone. Hassan has started a new year at Hawken; she must wait until Saturday to see him again. Everywhere there are signs of a child -- in the first-grade art-work on the refrigerator, in the giggling, gap-toothed photographs. Under the kitchen table, potato men they made together balance on wobbly popsicle-stick legs. Hassan says the sculptures won't start looking "really good and gross" until they start wrinkling up and sprouting eyes. For now, it seems, all Ross can do is wait.

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