San Diego County

Domestic Abuse Survivor Gets Justice After Quick Thinking Saves Her From Forced Shared Custody Agreement

NBC Universal, Inc.

After five years of litigation, a San Diego County woman is getting justice after being bullied and verbally abused by her ex-husband and his attorney.

“This is abuse, this is domestic violence, this is absolutely unacceptable and that was the point where I had to turn the tide and I had to take a stand and fight this,” Jennifer Shenefield said.

Jennifer Shenefield is a survivor of domestic violence. After a terrible beating, her husband was prosecuted and convicted by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The judge gave Jennifer full custody of her child and placed a restraining order against her ex-husband.

“Mark Shenefield was to be nowhere near Jennifer Shenefield in this case,” Casey Gwinn, President of Alliance for HOPE International said.

But the restraining order didn't stop her ex-husband from threatening her into changing their custody agreement.

Within two weeks of his conviction, her ex-husband's defense attorney, Karolyn Kovtun, called Jennifer Shenefield into her office. She had no idea her ex-husband would be there.

“A lawyer facilitated him being in the office when Jennifer showed up unrepresented,” Gwinn said.

When Jennifer Shenefield showed up, her ex-husband and his lawyer began intimidating her into signing a new shared custody agreement. The pair didn't know Jennifer Shenefield was recording audio of the confrontation.

“If you’re not willing to give him 50%, we’re going to get 100% and you’re going to get nothing,” Kovtun said in the recording.

“I was terrified, I was astounded and I was just so so sad, for my daughter, for everything that was happening in that moment,” Jennifer Shenefield said.

Both Jennifer Shenefield and Gwinn are glad she pressed record.

“No one was going to believe me and I said they did this to me. The first thing they say is there’s no evidence of that, it’s he said, she said. We’re not going to believe you. This is an attorney, the attorney said that it didn’t happen so it didn’t happen. So many domestic violence victims deal with that. So I knew I had to do the recording,” Jennifer Shenefield said.

“If it had not been recorded, nobody would believe when Jennifer Shenefield filed a complaint against Karolyn Kovtun. If there wasn’t a recording, nobody would’ve believed that a lawyer could do this,” Gwinn said.

The recording went on for more than an hour.

“We’re not going to let you interfere with this father’s relationship with his child any longer,” Kovtun told her.

California is a two-party consent state, which means confidential conversations are only allowed to be recorded when both parties involved agree to it.

Gwinn said there’s a provision in Jennifer Shenefield's restraining order against her ex-husband that allows for the recording of the violation of the restraining order without two-party consent.

“Sign the document! Sign the document … Jennifer, you know what, stop it!” Mark Shenefield and Kovtun said in the recording.

“This is a classic example of gaslighting, and verbal and emotional abuse facilitated by a lawyer,” Gwinn said.

Jennifer Shenefield signed the document "Under Diress" to indicate the document had not been consensual, which nullified the agreement.

As soon as she left, she sought out help.

“In my mind, there was a custody agreement in place that I’d been forced into and I could not hand my daughter over to him,” Jennifer Shenefield said.

Jennifer turned over the audio recording to the police.

When Kovtun learned about the audio recording, she sued Jennifer Shenefield in Small Claims Court.

Jennifer Shenefield reached out to the Family Justice Center, where she found legal representation to help her move forward with the case.

They helped her file a lawsuit against Kovtun. After five years of litigation, the judge’s ruling came down Thursday.

The judge ruled that Kovtun must now pay Jennifer Shenefield damages caused by negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.

“This should be a message to any lawyer, that you’re not above the law,” Gwinn said.

“I feel a sense of relief and I feel a sense of hope, not just for me, but for all victims of domestic violence, all survivors, everyone who’s been silenced, everyone who hasn’t gotten to see justice. We were able to see some justice and accountability brought in this case,” Jennifer said.

There is a pending BARR complaint against Kovtun. NBC 7 reached out to the BARR Association and has not heard back.

While it’s still unclear if Kovtun will be disbarred, in California, attorneys can be disciplined for a number of reasons, including professional misconduct.

Contact Us