A woman who failed to attend multiple court hearings during a custody battle with her ex-boyfriend over their young son was held in contempt by a Washington County judge and now must pay a fine and turn the child over to the father.
Ashley Hart was held in contempt Monday when Washington County Judge Gary Gilman ruled that she disobeyed the court’s numerous orders to attend as many as six custody hearings over the past three months, including the most recent hearing Friday morning.
Her whereabouts and the location of the 17-month-old boy, Armani Denezza, are unknown. Her lawyer, Richard Ducote, said she went into hiding in May to avoid the child’s father, Anthony Denezza, 33, of Greensburg, who initiated the custody proceedings that same month. Ducote said his client was never told about initial proceedings and remains hidden to avoid Denezza.
“What he was able to do is force Miss Hart into fleeing from him and then was able to attain custody,” Ducote said. “We’re confident that when all of the evidence is heard, this situation will be rectified.”
But time is running out for Hart. As part of Gilman’s order, Hart must turn the child over to Denezza at the state police barracks in Washington by Monday night. She must also pay $3,806 in legal fees to Denezza’s lawyer, Karen Hassinger, along with a $500 fine by the end of the month. If Hart fails to comply, Gilman said he will issue a “high priority” bench warrant against her.
Hassinger applauded the ruling and hoped it would spur a final custody decision. She said Denezza currently has “primary physical and legal” custody of the boy until the case resumes.
“I’m not surprised by it. She is in contempt and she’s decided she doesn’t have to pay attention to court orders,” Hassinger said. “Hopefully this will all be worked out very soon based on the judge’s order. You can’t take the law into your own hands and leave town with someone’s child, if she even left town. It certainly needs to go through the court system.”
Both sides have made nasty allegations against each other about their abilities to serve as parents. Denezza was charged by Peters Township police May 15 and accused of assaulting Hart’s father outside their home while trying to find his son. Denezza is awaiting trial on charges of simple assault, harassment and criminal mischief.
Ducote said that alleged behavior, along with other evidence they plan to present in the custody proceedings, is why Hart left with the boy.
“Her first and foremost concern was the safety for her and her child,” Ducote said.
Hassinger disputed the allegations put forward by Hart’s legal team.
“My client vehemently denies any and all of those allegations,” Hassinger said. “He misses his son terribly, and so does his whole family.”
Both attorneys said they hoped a solution could still be worked out through the custody hearings. Ducote plans to continue investigating Hart’s options before Monday’s deadline and suggested the child be placed in the temporary care of a third party, where both parents have supervision.
“We still think we can pursue something along those lines,” Ducote said.
Meanwhile, Hassinger suggested Hart comply with the judge’s order so they can move forward with the custody hearings.
“Provided she complies and turns the child over, it will either go through the (court) system or the parties will enter into an agreement,” she said.