The Public Eye

Sacramento child organization leader faces questions about background, management

Jennifer Kendall cites her own experience in Sacramento County family court as a reason for starting the Little Voice Project, a fledgling Sacramento organization with the stated goal of ending “court-ordered child abuse.”

A now-defunct website put it this way: “Every year 58,000 children are court ordered into the hands of their abusers. On April 16, 2012, Baby Charlie joined their ranks as he was taken from his loving mother and placed into the hands of Kevin Chase, a known abuser.”

But Chase has never been accused of abusing his son. While family court Judge Sharon Lueras found in 2011 that Chase was abusive toward Kendall, Lueras later determined he provided a safe environment for Charlie and ordered Kendall to take down the “slanderous, libelous website,” court records show.

Kendall faces questions about her background and her management of the Little Voice Project as she tries to build the agency she created in 2012. The agency has already won some recognition, having been named by Channel 3 (KCRA) viewers as one of the best charities in the region this year, and Kendall says she plans to create a “Children’s Justice Center” that would bring together court and child welfare officials to better protect children.

Before she can realize those goals, she has to address a legal problem with the Internal Revenue Service, which earlier this year revoked the nonprofit status of the Little Voice Project. The IRS says it took the action because the organization has never filed a tax return detailing its revenue and expenditures and cannot collect tax-exempt donations until it does. Kendall said she is working with the IRS to meet the requirement.

Chase questioned Kendall’s motivations with the Little Voice Project.

“The real story is the exact opposite of the one she has been telling,” he said. “She won’t even see her son, yet she is putting on this crusade about parental rights.”

Kendall, Chase noted, has not seen 5-year-old Charlie in more than three years. Kendall conceded she has not seen Charlie in that time, but said it is because she doesn’t know how to contact Chase. He said he has the same email address and phone number he had when they started dating.

Kendall and Chase were divided over Charlie before he was even born. They never married, and Chase said the unplanned pregnancy drove a wedge between them as Kendall did not seem receptive to his desire to remain a presence in the child’s life. Among other things, Kendall left his name off Charlie’s birth certificate, an omission she used later in the custody battle.

Chase filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court in June 2010 seeking to establish his parental rights just before Charlie was born. Kendall later sought a restraining order against Chase, and that case was combined with the paternity case heard by Judge Lueras.

In a 2011 order, Lueras found that Chase had been verbally abusive toward Kendall and had directed “past physical abuse to mother,” without providing specifics of the latter. She said his behavior did not warrant an order restraining him from Kendall. Lueras told him to complete six months of anger management and parental training classes, which he did, receiving a note from the Fathers Resource Center calling him “a positive and active participant.”

In an interview, Chase said he never hit Kendall. She would not discuss her past allegations of physical abuse, saying she wants to have a relationship with Charlie in the future, and such comments would make that difficult.

Before Lueras could make a final ruling on custody rights, Kendall sent the case in another direction – by moving Charlie to Washington state from her rural El Dorado County home. At Chase’s request, El Dorado County officials began an investigation and eventually located her in suburban Spokane. When officials confronted her there, she initially said Chase wasn’t the father because his name wasn’t on the birth certificate, court records show.

Facing a charge of child stealing, Kendall initially planned a defense based on the argument that she was legally entitled to take Charlie. “The decisions I made were to protect my son from the violence he could suffer at the hands of Kevin Chase,” she wrote in a declaration to the court.

The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office opposed that argument, saying that family court records had shown that Chase was never violent toward Charlie and “there has never been a finding of sufficient evidence” to establish that he hit her. Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Proud ruled in favor of the prosecution, meaning she could not use that defense at trial.

Kendall pleaded no contest and was sentenced to five years of felony probation. Her actions also weakened her case in family court, where Chase’s attorney and Judge Lueras criticized her.

Attorney Bunmi Awoniyi said Kendall’s flight made no sense given what Lueras had established about Chase’s temperament. “There is a perception of reality that is completely detached from reality,” Awoniyi said, according to a transcript of the June 2012 hearing.

Lueras said taking the child away from his father traumatized Charlie, and she did not want to further the damage by keeping him away from Kendall. She said Kendall could see Charlie once a week but only with the highest level of third-party supervision authorized by the court.

In an interview, Kendall said she regrets taking Charlie. “I made just about every possible mistake I could make,” she said.

Some board members for the Little Voice Project said their only knowledge of Kendall’s experience with the child welfare system comes from her. Michael McClelland, a lobbyist and lawyer for the medical industry, said her story is one reason why he agreed to serve on the board. He said he couldn’t discuss what she told him because it would violate attorney-client privilege.

Ellen Martin, a marketing professional, said she has not learned much about Kendall’s background since joining the board in April. After hearing of Kendall’s court record, she said she thinks the board should discuss Kendall’s history and the direction of the Little Voice Project at a meeting this month.

Thirteen people, including Kendall and her father, sit on the board of directors, according to the agency’s website. Those include Richard Harmon, a lobbyist at Townsend Public Affairs, and Barry Kalar, a former West Sacramento police chief and current criminal justice professor at Sacramento City College. Neither Harmon nor Kalar returned messages seeking comment about Kendall and the Little Voice Project.

Kendall said personal problems have gotten in the way of spending as much time as she would like on the project, which shares an East Sacramento office with her father’s website business. Since she formed the organization when she was in suburban Spokane in 2012, she has mostly done research on the problems that keep children with abusive parents, she said. The agency has no active programs or clients, according to Kendall and board members.

The agency’s website asks for “tax-deductible” donations and has a link to the PayPal payment site, even though the IRS has revoked its tax-exempt status. Kendall said she only recently learned of the revocation, and she is not receiving donations, anyway. She initially said she has only received $200 in donations in the three years the project has been operating. She later acknowledged receiving an $8,000 donation from a former boyfriend.

The IRS cannot comment on individual nonprofits, but an agency spokeswoman directed The Sacramento Bee to an IRS website that showed the status of the Little Voice Project and the reason for its revocation. The IRS requires detailed financial information from nonprofits because of their tax-exempt status. The tax returns become public information.