Fighting Back Rumors

The bell of accusation can't be unrung, but maybe Don Van Blaricom can make it toll more gently. Accused of molesting his then-teenage daughter, the former police chief of Bellevue has not only refuted the sex-attack claim but, after six years in court, can now sue his daughter's attorney for legal abuse.

Still, the ex-chief, now a professional expert witness who has testified on police procedures at some 1,000 trials across the country, doesn't want to talk about the case. "I'd prefer not to comment," Van Blaricom, 66, said last week. Elena Garella, his attorney, says, "this case has caused Don a great amount of damage and hurt." From the beginning, in 1996, Van Blaricom, who had left the Bellevue chief's post 10 years prior, denied the accusations by Theresa Obermiller. He urged the media to refrain from publishing the claim "until the truth is known." But local newspapers and TV stations announced the lawsuit and later reported on some of the trial (though not the outcome). It was a story few could resist—an ex-top cop hauled into a civil morals court.

Obermiller, of Marysville and now in her mid-40s, said Van Blaricom fathered her by his first wife in 1956 and sexually assaulted her when she was 16. Van Blaricom said Obermiller was fathered by another man who was having an affair with Van Blaricom's wife while he was away in the military (Van Blaricom also once admitted under oath that Obermiller was his biological child). He said the daughter suffered from a "sick and troubled mind," and Obermiller admitted to having psychological problems, though she attributed them to the alleged assaults. She said she was the victim of "repeated and frequent" assaults and molestations when she lived briefly with Van Blaricom in the early 1970s.

Initially, Obermiller sought a settlement in return for not going to court, something Van Blaricom called extortion. Then Obermiller's Seattle attorney, Donald Kronenberg, tipped the press when the case was filed. He derided Van Blaricom's standing as a pillar of the community, suggesting it was time he was "pilloried by this community." Van Blaricom said his reputation was forever stained, whatever the outcome.

Obermiller's claims did not hold up in court. Some of her own relatives supported Van Blaricom, saying Obermiller had told them conflicting stories: that she'd actually been assaulted by another of her mother's husbands (she had four), and in that case, Obermiller had seduced him.

After the 1997 trial, partially reported by the press, Obermiller's lawsuit was dismissed for lack of proof (a review of newspaper library files indicates the trial's outcome wasn't reported, until now). Van Blaricom then filed suit against the attorney, citing wrongful attachment of his home (staking a legal claim to his property), defamation, emotional distress, and other claims.

A trial court dismissed most of Van Blaricom's suit. But two months ago, the state Court of Appeals overruled that, saying he can sue Kronenberg for alleged violation of due process and abuse of legal procedures. (Kronenberg had no comment last week). The court also tossed out the pretrial attachment law in Washington, agreeing with earlier federal rulings that such laws lack due process.

So it's back to court, with Van Blaricom seeking unspecified damages, and no small amount of revenge, from Kronenberg. The $235-an-hour professional witness hopes his next appearance will be profitable in a special way. "From the beginning," says his attorney, Garella, "Don has absolutely been adamant that he never hurt this woman, and he's been intent on vindicating himself and establishing as much as possible his innocence in the whole affair. This lawsuit has more to do with him trying to set things right than his pursuit of money."

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