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M. Sean Gilligan: Parental Alienator?

I should point out that Lisa does not necessarily want any limelight, let alone the kind of limelight which is in this post. But there are important lessons here for others, notably for the Santa Cruz justice system.

During a marital dispute on April 12, 2019, M. Sean Gilligan lost his temper with his wife Lisa Valenzuela and wrenched her wrists.

Instead of taking her to the emergency room, as she asked, he called the police himself and, unbeknownst to her, told them that she had attacked him. Their son was in the house, and so she did not tell the police what had happened lest they arrest Sean in front of her son.

They arrested her.

Sean, twice her size, was unmarked, unhurt.

Building on the success of that one piece of brazen gas lighting, Sean convinced the lead lawyer for the local association helping battered wives to represent him.

At his request, the arresting officer obtained a restraining order from the duty judge which prevented Lisa for months from seeing her children or obtaining her possessions from what used to be her home.

During this opportune maternal absence, the minor child stopped contacting, one after the other, Lisa, her parents, his half-sister, his cousins, you name it, her entire warm-hearted Irish family. I wonder why. The boy had enjoyed normal loving relationships with all of them until his mother was kicked out of her home.

No-one did anything that actually helped this minor child. The courts did not even examine his best interests during the year (still counting) after Lisa was hurt, although they did order her to pay Sean child support. Once she was arrested, they presumed that she was the bad parent.

Crime may not pay, but gas lighting sure does!

(N.B. the disclaimers at the end of this post).

Scenes from a Marriage

When Lisa and Sean got together around 2000, he owned a hot video startup: think video before YouTube. But it tanked soon after the wedding bells rang, and like many startup founders Sean had a hard time letting all that hard work go. He begged and borrowed from friends and family, with his father investing several hundred thousand dollars (all lost by the end), to try to make the doomed business fulfil its early promise.

M. Sean Gilligan, on the beach in a photo that was his profile pic on FaceBook for a while. Not sure why he picked this one: look at those eyes!

When Lisa’s parents gave her money to cover family expenses during that trying period, Sean diverted it to pay his employees. He never even considered repaying Lisa’s family (or his best friend from junior high) when better times finally arrived.

Before they did, he collapsed in a pool of angst and self-indulgence, scared to try again in case he failed again, scared to apply for a job in case he wasn’t offered it, curling up in a foetal position, in reality and symbolically, while Lisa took care of two little ones as well as him and earned most of the family’s collective income for many years.

She kept trying, she told me, because she was sure that he could realize his obvious potential if she could just give him enough, help him enough.

The worst part were the taxes and other debts created initially when the business tanked and then worsened by Sean’s refusal to deal with them for extended periods. In his divorce papers, he estimated the debts at hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of which were not discharged by the couple’s protracted bankruptcy: according to the IRS, Sean had omitted to pay it employee withholdings that his company owed.

The debt, her barely functional husband, the beautiful ocean-view home foreclosed upon, the repeated utility cutoffs in subsequent rentals, it was all a terrible weight for Lisa, an almost constant pain in her chest. She didn’t show it; she kept all the misery securely bottled up, in large part out of loyalty to Sean.

Lisa during a run on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. She posted this on FaceBook in around April 2018.

Loyalty is her middle name. Or maybe it’s “Stockholm Syndrome” (remember Patti Hearst “joining” the SLA after they kidnapped her? That’s Stockholm Syndrome in action). She never talked with her friends about what their real family life was like, and even defended Sean to her own family (“why doesn’t he just get a job?!”) when they could not help but notice the stress that she was under.

In any event, Lisa is not the type to whine or gripe: voted most talkative by her peers in her High School senior year, bubbly is the first word you’d use to describe her. Other than her family, who saw what she was going through up close, no-one knew, most saw simply the bubbles.

The tax debt made the marriage in many ways Victorian. Building on his need to hide assets from the IRS, Sean exercised complete financial control over Lisa. After she and I first started talking, I was astonished to hear her complain bitterly that he was not giving her any money for the children’s lunches at school, and that it had been a week or more since she had first asked him for it. The response seemed obvious: “why don’t you just write a check?”

“We’re unbanked,” she had replied. It took me a while to even figure out what that meant. Sean was earning six figures in salary alone by this point, and also had consulting revenue. Why would they have no bank account?

But having no bank account enabled him to put a lot of their money, which he typically referred to as “his,” where his mouth was, in bitcoin. Sean is great at identifying trends in tech, and he had jumped early on the bitcoin bandwagon. It had finally earned him good money from his bitcoin-based employer, and he put whatever he wanted into bitcoin, with its particular advantage of giving him complete control over his part of the community income.

Sean Gilligan injured his wife, @msgilligan
This story started, and Lisa’s life was turned upside down, on the night that Sean inflicted this pain on Lisa. Look at that swelling! She took the photo only minutes, half an hour max, after Sean did this to her.

Lisa could spend her income, which had been reduced by disk surgery over these bitcoin years, on the family, but she and they had no access to “his.” Unless, that is, he magisterially dispensed it, in his sole discretion. So Victorian!

But unlike the Victorian mother, Lisa had no help. Getting the dishwasher fixed on the landlord’s dime – all Sean had to do was advance the cost of the repair – took over six months before her father intervened and paid for the repair himself, loaning Sean the money. While he was grossing aver $200K a year, Lisa was washing all the dishes in the home (with two teenagers) by hand for seven or eight months!

She started seeing a therapist in an attempt to do more for Sean, because she believed him when he blamed her for everything that had gone wrong with his life. He was always very convincing.

Her wise therapist saw other things. She opened the floodgates for Lisa, and in washed Sarah. Sean had known Sarah since about 2014, and spent a lot of time with her. He organized a bitcoin meetup with her once a month at NextSpace, they shared an office there together for a while, they sampled many of the bars in town together, and he spent less and less time at home, and came home later and later, all because of his “work.”

Lisa had believed for years that her husband was one of the most honest people she had ever known, as she had professed to me proudly when we first started talking. She thought that he had not the slightest interest in being unfaithful. I remember trying to keep a straight face when she told me that one.

This is part of a police report including Sean’s version of the cruel climax of the marriage.
Surely the police should have noticed the difference in strength and girth between the two spouses? She “straddled him while he was on the couch!” He’s claiming that she was pinning him on the couch!!! How did he even let her get there! He’s 210 pounds, at times 230, and she 120! He stands up and she falls off! And she was doing it with no hands! Sean saw that she had her fists clenched, and was afraid that she might hit him!

I worked in NextSpace in Santa Cruz, as did Sean, and had seen him operate for several years. About a year before all this happened, there had been a single woman who had played the field in the space (good for her!): let’s call her Sylvia.  Sean had obviously liked her and even worked with her on some project, to the point where I suspected that they might have had a fling.

I learned from Lisa that when Sean discovered that Sylvia had slept with a friend of his, he had come home and told Lisa how upset he was about this. He shook with anger, she said, and threatened to beat up his friend, or punch him out, or something of the kind, because he had slept with Sylvia.

Two and two makes four, right? Not for Lisa, not then, not yet. She thought that his reaction was “weird,” but that’s as far as she went.

Another “weird” moment occurred after Sean returned from what he described as a three-hour “yoga class.” He smelled strongly of lavender. When questioned by Lisa, he explained that essential oils had been thrown over the yoga class. Did I mention that Sarah was a massage therapist?

The funniest part of that little story was that Sean then washed all of the clothes he had been wearing at this “class,” but put none of the other pending laundry in the machine! I laughed out loud!

Lisa found his Signal messages in January 2019, exchanged with Sylvia at times, but mostly with Sarah, and with her therapists’s encouragement began to see the truth. It all started fitting together. Sean denied it all, of course, with touching sincerity and a wounded look, as cheating husbands do, insisting that Sarah was simply his “best friend.” He elected to ignore the conclusion of the marriage counselor whom he himself had retained that Sarah was in any case “toxic” for the marriage.

Lisa and the Valenzuelas, Thanksgiving 2013. Her two brothers and her parents. Irish mom, Spanish / Irish dad, and I want to reassure her brothers here and now that I will take good care of their sister!

I was beginning to worry for Lisa. As the truth of her couple became clearer to her, she told me more and more. Most disturbing was her revelation that, after he brought strangulation into their intimate life more and more often, during one episode Sean had strangled her to the point of unconsciousness: “I couldn’t believe that crazy look in his eyes!”

Domestic strangulation is a strong predictor of more serious subsequent domestic violence, according to Psychology Today.

A large case-control study in the United States found that previous domestic violence involving strangulation is a substantial and unique predictor of attempted and completed murder. Statistically, it multiplies the odds by seven. . . .

Lisa apparently told only her therapist about being strangled by Sean: that did seem to be enough.

. . . . Since 2017, four women a day have been killed by an intimate partner. Strangulation is often one of the last abusive acts a batterer commits before he kills; surviving strangulation is surviving attempted murder. From a violence risk perspective, nonlethal strangulation is as much a red flag as the odor of alcohol in a DUI investigation.

Psychology Today article

Lisa had told me that she had asked Sean to move out of their home following his attempted strangulation. Women are grave risk of violence from the men in their lives when they have initiated a separation, and I recommended that Lisa tell people about what had happened, and let Sean know that she had done so. Once he knew that she had spread it around, breaking her normal code of silence as to his conduct, it was not likely to happen again. It didn’t: he refused to stop the intimate repeats, and refused to move out, but was always under control from then on until April 12, 2019.

The Cruel Climax

That evening began calmly enough for Sean and Lisa.

They had settled into an uneasy truce in the three months since Lisa had discovered his Signal messages to and from Sarah.

But Sean had seen the writing on the wall, and was preparing for their separation, I think in a calculated manner.

Sean Gilligan @msgilligan
# 1. Unable to drive herself after their April 12 marital dispute had deteriorated, because of her injuries, Lisa texted Sean to ask for a ride to the hospital.

As he provoked her more and more, Lisa was more and more troubled. Even I, a relative newcomer in her life, could see this.

She was deeply distressed by his systematic failures, some banal, some not. He almost never dined with the family, for example, even though he ostensibly agreed with Lisa that this was the right thing to do. Even if he texted her that he was just leaving the office now, he would then not show up for hours. This happened regularly.

The less banal provocations increased as time went on, approaching the unbearable. Sean’s ski vacation with Sarah and her brother and other young people had taken place just before Christmas in Colorado, several nights, and the tropical vacation that the Gilligan/Valenzuela family had enthusiastically planned together for the holidays never happened.

He called this ski trip a business trip, and in his Signal messages Lisa discovered that he and Sarah had mocked their use of this description between themselves. He left Lisa with peanuts ($300: how much did the ski trip cost for him alone?) to cover family needs while he was away skiing and to prepare for Christmas: remember, she only had the money that he deigned to give her.

He then accompanied Sarah to Cabo San Lucas for an “important business conference,” one which he neglected to mention to his employer, and whined repeatedly to Lisa on his return that Sarah had not had time for him there, she had been so busy with other people. Wow!

Then he cancelled a promised trip to Barcelona with Lisa, replacing her at the last minute with their daughter. Why? Lisa has cousins in Spain. Why substitute a teenager for her mother?

Sean Gilligan injured wife,  @msgilligan
#2. First Sean agreed to give her that ride to the ER, after some reflection, perhaps to ensure that she asked no-one else. Then, at 12.05, according to the police, he called 911 instead. Lisa was too hurt to drive at this point, and posed no threat to anyone.
Isn’t dialing 911 when there’s no emergency a misdemeanor? Think how much Sean’s manipulative call cost us taxpayers!

Throughout these months, punctuated by regular and sometimes heated arguments between the spouses, Sean consistently refused Lisa’s entreaties that he behave honorably in the circumstances and move out.  Why should he? Just because he had found a new “best friend?”

Lisa took their son, their younger teenager, to Ireland with her at the beginning of April, and upon her return the provocations reached a crescendo. Sarah’s hat, one featured prominently on her FaceBook page, was in Lisa’s bedroom, her tupperware was in Lisa’s dishwasher, and her food was in Lisa’s fridge. Sean gave ridiculous excuses, the kind only cheating husbands would dare offer, for each of these surprises, and Lisa grit her teeth.

Even worse, when Lisa went into her 18 year-old daughter’s bedroom to say hello after her return, she discovered that Sean had moved her out during Lisa’s absence, without even telling her! He had been driving a wedge between mother and daughter for quite some time, even implicating the daughter in his relationship outside the marriage, and now she was gone, living with her boyfriend’s parents nearby. What had Sean told them? What had he told her daughter?

All she knew was that he had regularly told her mother that Lisa and her daughter were fighting all the time. They weren’t, no more than an average mother and daughter, and Lisa had no idea why he would say such a thing. Later she would realize that if he was making up such stories for her own mother, he was likely spreading them around more broadly.

So Lisa returned from a vacation with her son to find the other woman’s stuff all over her home and her daughter moved out without her knowledge. Talk about cruel, talk about provocative!

Sean Gilligan injured wife, @msgilligan
Lisa’s left arm about a week after Sean wrenched it: she posted this on her FaceBook page. He claimed self defense, but did not have a mark on him, no scratch, no bruise, nothing.

How do you think was she feeling on the evening of April 12th, a week after these brutal discoveries, when husband and wife had a row?

Their 15 year-old son had a track meet the next day, which both parents had agreed to attend because track was so important to the boy. Sean announced that evening that he had double booked a lunch with his stepmom and would not be able to attend.

Lisa went upstairs to consider this announcement, and decided that his stepmom was not the real reason.  She was retired, had a lot of free time at her discretion, and Sean would not have cancelled his attendance at his son’s track meet for her. He would, however, have cancelled it for his “best friend.”

Returning downstairs to try to convince Sean to go to the track meet, she found him texting madly on his phone. She asked him who he was texting,  and he was evasive, flashing her the front of his phone to taunt her and as quickly turning it away again. The taunts worked, and Lisa, whose vision is not great, grabbed for the phone so she could finally see the name of Sean’s correspondent.

After a short struggle, Sean dropped the phone, and then grabbed her arms. She strained to free herself, and he lost his temper and wrenched both her wrists. Then he left the house.

That’s it: that was the sum of the injury part of the dispute. But he is 6′ 1″, buff and is a man, and she is a slender if fit 5′ 7″ woman.

By losing his temper, even though he quickly got himself under control, he had all but broken her arm.  It swelled up immediately, and the pain was quickly excruciating. She took ice from the freezer up to her room, and began icing the arm. Soon enough, she realized two things: (1) at a minimum she needed X-rays, to see whether it was broken; and (2) she could not drive herself to the Emergency Room with her arm in that condition.

She needed help, and so texted Sean at 11.56 pm and then tried to call him asking him to drive her to the ER. She could perhaps have asked a friend to drive her, but that would have involved incriminating Sean, and it was not Lisa’s way to air her dirty washing for all to see. Remember her loyalty, remember the “Stockholm Syndrome.”

A few minutes later, Sean texted back that he would drive her to the hospital.

How the police made things much worse

Sean Gilligan insured wife arm, @msgilligan
Lisa’s arm, again taken about a week after Sean wrenched it. Feel the pain that she was in when the police were “helping” her.

A little after 12.05, Sean called Lisa (he switched to voice at this point) and told her that he had dialed 911 and that the police were coming to their home. This made no sense to her: what was the emergency? She was incapacitated. He explained that he was afraid that he might be arrested at the ER for domestic violence if he took her there.

She was still reflecting on Sean calling 911 to protect himself, from the police and not from her, stunned as much by this news as by her swelling arms, when three police cars, a paramedic van and a firetruck arrived outside her front door. Lisa thought with horror about how her neighbors would view this little public drama.

Sean had not returned inside the home before the police arrived, and met them in the yard. There was a pause while he and the officers discussed matters. She had no idea that Sean was claiming both that he was afraid of her, and that their son was also.

Ridiculous! He’d already hurt her badly, so badly that she needed to visit the ER, and he could snap her like a twig if he felt like it. It was all backwards.

Confused and likely in shock because of her almost broken arm, Lisa stayed in her room and hoped unrealistically that they would simply go away.

Here’s part of Sean’s sworn statement of what happened. Compare it with the photos of Lisa’s arms in this post. Can you imagine a woman “attacking” a man without leaving even a scratch? Unlike him, she didn’t lose her temper: she simply lunged impotently for his phone.

That was not to be. Three uniformed officers knocked several times and then filed into her bedroom, one after the other. Lisa was on her bed in her nightclothes, icing her injured arms. One of them asked her what had taken place. She was worried what would happen to Sean if she told the story: he had maybe broken her arm, injuring her visibly, and would surely be arrested. Still trying to avoid airing her dirty laundry in public, still manifesting Stockholm Syndrome, she said that she was okay and asked to be left alone.

Most importantly, she was also trying to protect her 15 year-old son, who was in his room down the hall, probably playing video games. At all cost, she did not want him to see his father arrested.

Sergeant Karina Ceceña, here on the SCPD Blog, determined that Sean, 230 lbs and unmarked, claiming he was sore, was the victim of Lisa, 120 lbs, with cuts and bruising that required an ER visit. The best that can be said is that she must lack experience.

When Sergeant Karina Ceceña, the fourth officer who had been sent to the house, asked her what had happened, reassuring her that they were there to help, she again said that she was fine and asked to be left alone.

They weren’t exactly there to help. They were there because an obviously unjustifiable 911 call (Lisa was already incapacitated when it was made, by the man who had incapacitated her) had brought them there.

Simply because Lisa didn’t talk, which the police seem to have perceived was directed against them rather than protective of her son and family, she became the most obvious candidate for arrest, despite her injuries and relative physical weakness.

The Sergeant went further. “You don’t seem okay, you seem upset,” she said to Lisa. I wonder why: both her arms were injured, one more seriously; instead of being taken to the hospital, four police officers were in her bedroom “to help” her; and Sean had exposed her son and her in a public spectacle.

Sergeant Ceceña’s deductive reasoning transcended mere common sense: “I think that Mr. Gilligan is the victim here,” she announced. Not only was Sean not arrested after badly hurting his wife and making a 911 call when there was no emergency, Lisa was.

She was sitting there, on the bed in her nightclothes, 120 lbs, with her arms swelling up, with other bruises and scratches (according to the police report), and Sean (210+ lbs) did not have a mark on him, no scratch, no bruise, absolutely nothing, again according to the police report.

The TRO.
This Temporary Restraining Order was issued against Lisa by the Court early the next morning following the arresting officer’s summary of the facts, based on Sean’s assertions.
“Temporary” is a misnomer: this ordered Lisa to move out of her home, leaving everything behind, including her children. Unwittingly, and relying like everyone else on the police decision, the Court ordered the abusive spouse to have “temporary” custody of the couple’s one minor child.

His sworn statement announced that he felt “stressed” and “sore.” That is the lamest victim statement I ever heard! Poor big lug!

But apparently not too lame for this Sergeant! Let’s go back to the police’s own report of the facts here.  Remember they said that Lisa (120 lbs) was pinning Sean (210+ lbs) down on the couch? Quite a feat, especially when they also said that she did this with no hands! Sean had “grabbed on to Lisa’s wrist because he had noticed that her fist was clenched and he didn’t want Lisa to hit him.”

So she had not hit him. She’s supposed to be attacking him, but has done so by straddling him on the couch with no hands!  And he has the time while suffering this improbable aggression to notice that her fist was clenched, which is why he grabbed and wrenched her wrists. Not because she was pummelling him or scratching him, which she never did, but because she might have!   

The one good thing to say about the Santa Cruz PD here is that they did not doctor their own report despite the multiple portions of Sean’s story which undermined Sergeant Ceceña’s conclusion that he was the victim.

There’s another key problem with Sean’s story. Arresting Lisa first involved getting her shoes out of the closet: she had been barefoot all this time. The significance of this can be found in Sean’s description of what had happened in the initial police report. She started by kicking him “several times” in the shins, he said. This assertion evolved over time, until he dropped it completely in a sworn court statement months later.

Why did he drop it? Well for one thing, he had no marks of any kind to show to indicate these repetitive kicks, which is very unlikely. Being kicked in the shins marks, in various ways: ask any soccer player.

And then there was the issue of Lisa’s bare feet. If she had kicked him once with bare feet, she would have hurt herself. If she had flown off the handle and kicked him hard several times, as he initially asserted to the police, she would likely have broken a toe or two.

Sean Gilligan
This is the part of the later police report covering Lisa’s injuries. Compare these with Sean’s feeling “stressed.” He ought to have been feeling stressed after what he did to his wife! Bear in mind that the police were there not 30 minutes after the injuries were inflicted, and the swelling had already occurred and the bleeding had only just stopped.
Who hurt whom here?

In short, Sean’s sworn assertion that Lisa kicked him several times must have been a straight lie. Doesn’t an obvious lie in his initial sworn statement throw doubt upon Sean’s whole version of events? Obviously. As did his assertion that Lisa pinned him on the couch with no hands! And why did the Sergeant ignore Sean’s admission that Lisa hadn’t actually hit him?

Back in the house that night, when Lisa moved toward the closet, three officers moved their hands close to their holsters, and one told her that he was uneasy with her approaching the closet when there were guns in the house. One of the officers then found her a pair of shoes out of the closet.

Sean does indeed have a large number of guns on the property, and must have told the police that they were there. He is a Second Amendment afficiando, otherwise known as a “gun nut.” But he was the only one with access to the guns, most of which were in a gun safe not in Lisa’s closet. None were in her room: she is scared of guns, and has never had the combination to Sean’s gun safe.

Sean must have neglected to mention this to the police. And they must have neglected to ask who owned these guns. That was a serious omission, which could still prove dangerous to Lisa or others. When she moved in with him 20 plus years ago, he slept with a gun under his pillow in case her ex showed up.

A month later, and Lisa posted this on FaceBook on Mother’s Day. She still had not seen either of her children since April 12. This is what the Santa Cruz County justice system does to a visibly abused wife, and it continues to this day

The arresting officer (not the Sergeant) took Lisa to the ER on the way to County Jail, and had her arm X-rayed. Her other arm was handcuffed to a chair. This perpetrator needed a lot of medical attention! Fortunately, her arm was not in fact broken.

A key consequence of the police arresting the wrong person here is that the guns were not dealt with by the Court either. The abusive spouse’s guns must be put in storage or sold until the Court lets them go: Sean, a man who already lost his temper with his wife more than once (don’t forget the strangulation) and hurt her badly, has retained all his weapons.

The expected police self-justification nearly broke down here. I wrote to Police Chief Andy Mills complaining about this obvious wrongful arrest, and he handed the file to Sergeant Wes Morey, a diligent officer in SCPD’s Internal Affairs. Lisa belatedly gave Sergeant Morey a sworn statement about what had happened that night, he reviewed all the body cam footage, and he admitted orally that if he had been called out there it was not Lisa who would have been arrested. Common sense is really hard to ignore: that and the photos of Lisa’s arms.

But that’s as far as it went. The judge at her first divorce hearing (over five months after the injuries!) made much of the fact that Sergeant Morey did not put that opinion in his report; he said that he was unable to do so. “I wasn’t there!” Well, yeah, but your common sense was right on, Sergeant: shame that the SCPD could not publicly admit it when the evidence and common sense said that it had been at fault, and when that fault was still causing grievous harm to an abused wife and her minor child.

Why is it that police departments don’t like to accept responsibility for their errors, even when people are killed? Lisa counts herself lucky compared to some.

Let me add a footnote here: Sean is a proud Libertarian, who believes strongly in the individual’s right to be free from State interference. He has the right to all his guns! He has the right not to pay taxes! His calling the police here, unleashing the full power of the State on the loyal wife he had just injured, demonstrates the extent of his libertarian beliefs. He’s a mere hypocrite, and his asserted libertarian beliefs more gas lighting.

Monarch Services and Sean’s Lawyers

Much of this story seems backwards, beginning when the visibly weaker and conspicuously injured party was arrested. Tanya Ridino was Sean’s first lawyer, from April until the end of July. Even abusive spouses are entitled to a lawyer, but should Tanya have represented Sean here when she was Independent General Counsel for Monarch Services? Monarch is the local Santa Cruz County association formed to help abused wives. Not hurt them.

Sean Gilligan injured wife arm, @msgilligan
The elephant in the room again. Another photo of Lisa’s right arm taken about a week after Sean had her arrested, claiming that he was afraid of her.


In this case, Tanya was helping the man who had injured his wife. Now that’s backwards!

So how did Tanya do that? I have to presume that her commitment to the plight of abused wives is real, but then how did she see the injuries that Sean inflicted on Lisa and still work for him?

The answer must be that Sean is such a good gas lighter, especially good at playing the victim (which is not easy when you’re as big and smart as he is), and able to convince even bright professionals in their field that his often absurd assertions are true. That is the only way that I can explain rationally why Sergeant Ceceña and her colleagues bought his victim story so completely, despite its incoherence, Sean’s and Lisa’s obvious difference in strength, Lisa’s very real injuries and Sean’s absence of any real injury.

And it is the only way to explain rationally why Tanya Ridino sullied her own name and the name of Monarch Services in the service of a man who had just injured his wife. And in doing so, and this is the most serious problem here, she did real harm to both the injured wife and her minor child. I’ll get back to that in the next and last Section, below.

Of course, the fact that he had already convinced the SCPD to arrest Lisa must have helped Sean convince Tanya that he was the victim, despite his physical stature. That’s the problem with a police error in a justice system which appears to take every police decision as gospel. But that does not excuse Tanya’s not properly examining the police report, as I did: it only takes one good review to see the police errors here. 

The involvement of Monarch Services in this case likely had an effect on others similar to that of the SCPD’s fundamental error here. If the chief lawyer of the non-profit protecting abused wives is representing the husband in this case, then the wife must be really out of line, right? That was the message of Tanya’s merely accepting Sean as a client: he was one heavy abused husband, with not a mark on him!

I was particularly offended by Tanya’s pursuing Lisa when she must know how hopeless an abused wife feels: in her work for Monarch Services, she had presumably represented many abused wives. On top of the pain, emotional and physical, there is the Stockholm Syndrome, often an irrational sense of being responsible in some way, a tendency to minimize the hurt suffered, and a keen desire to avoid publicizing what happened.

Tanya jumped right in any way, taking advantage of Lisa’s distressed situation to advance her client’s goals of separating Lisa from her children, her home and her belongings, successfully for months.

Shame, shame, shame!

Sean’s second lawyer also refers to a connection to Monarch Services, if more modest than Tanya’s. For several years head of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, he was a “Monarch Services Board of Directors officer,” whatever that is!

Shortly after she quit representing Sean, Monarch Services deleted references to her on its web site, and she announced on LinkedIn that she was “previously” Independent General Counsel for Monarch Services.

Meanwhile, Sean continues to be represented by someone who refers to a relationship with Monarch Services on his web site, Gregory Carter. While Tanya helped Sean obtain sole physical custody over the couple’s minor child, meaning that the child has lived exclusively with Sean since April 13, 2019, Greg is trying to help him obtain sole legal custody. “Legal custody” is the right to participate in major decisions about the child’s education, medical treatment, spiritual matters and the like.

What Sean wants is to exclude Lisa from every aspect of her child’s life, and he is paying good money to his willing lawyers to obtain their help in furthering this goal.

What happened to the “Best Interests” of the Child?

When a divorce is before a court, its key statutory duty is to advance the best interests of the child. That has not yet happened here. In a full year.

Sean Gilligan injured wife arm, @msgilligan
Another photo of Lisa’s right arm, to help the reader remember what actually happened here. This one was taken shortly after Sean hurt her.

Why not?

Sean obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) prohibiting Lisa from seeing her children, or approaching her home, by 7 am the morning after he hurt her!

What chance did she have to dispute that? None. She was still in County Jail! It is one of those rare cases when one party to a dispute can obtain court action “ex parte,” without the other party being present.

This TRO expired in a week, and Sean then moved to extend it. Why didn’t Jack Ueberrhein, Lisa’s expensive lawyer (her parents paid him a lot of money over several months), ask that Sean himself be restrained? She was injured: Sean was not. I do not see how a court could have ignored her injuries pictured in this post: do you?

Jack wanted to negotiate with Tanya rather than go to court. He was adamant that Lisa should not risk appearing before the Court, explaining that the Court would follow the police decision, even in the face of blatant evidence that it was incoherent, even when the PD’s own report undermined their conclusion.

Jack was treating the judge as someone too stupid to take Lisa’s injuries seriously, too stupid to notice the physical differences between the spouses, too stupid to question the police’s absurd decision that Sean was the victim, too lazy to review the police report. I never bought it.

The DA, the only informed third party to review the facts, had promptly determined that they could not justify the prosecution which Sean sought.

Jack and Tanya’s constant back and forth delayed a court hearing for months. Neither raised the interests of the child in court, even though Lisa was telling Jack repeatedly about how worried she was about her son, even though her 15 year-old son was closing the door on her and her side of the family.

That alienation of the child from his mother was already well on the way by the time Jack and Tanya were done with their back and forth. This recent Psychology Today blog post suggests that their prolonged discussions contributed to that alienation.

“It makes sense that the earlier the intervention {when parental alienation is taking place}, the more likelihood of success both in preventing a worsening of the alienation and in healing alienation after it has developed.  The flip is true as well: Long legal battles definitely prolong and intensify alienation. The longer the courts take to intervene, the worse the alienation is likely to become, and the harder to reverse.” 

Psychology Today blog post
Another photo of the couple, illustrating what the Court would have seen if it had been asked promptly to rule on Sean’s assertions to the police in his TRO request, for example that Lisa had pinned him on the sofa where, unable to get up, he grabbed her wrists because he noticed that her hands were clenched! Wild laughter from the audience!!

Finally, Sean signed an Agreement limiting his approaches to Lisa as much as Lisa’s to him, belatedly accepting some responsibility for what had happened. Then he filed her mugshot, found online, with his court papers, still trying to make her out to be the bad guy.

The delays involved in the lawyers negotiating this Agreement meant that Lisa was forbidden by court order for over two months from visiting or otherwise contacting her minor child in person, at home or at school or at his sister’s lodging, anywhere. Do you think that Sean explained to his son that he was using the power of the court to force his mother to stay away from him?

The court also repeatedly neglected to raise the child’s interests. It seemed to forgot that there was a minor child involved. How could any judge presume or accept that long-term separation from his loving mother constitutes the best interest of any minor child!?

The belatedly signed Agreement provided for therapy for their minor child, which was initially intended to be reunification therapy but promptly turned into therapy for the minor child alone and then equally promptly stalled at the “request” of the minor child. Right!! Psychology Today on parental alienation again:

. . . . The reality is that currently these children too often are . . . abused . . . by therapists who worsen the alienation by conducting individual treatment under the eye of the alienator without reunifying the child with the targeted parent . . . .

The next step here (agreed in September 2019) is an in-depth custody evaluation involving both parents. Lisa completed her required documentation in November; it took Sean until mid-March 2020 to do so, more months of delay before the Court examined the child’s best interests, more months of delay while the alienation worsened.

The “temporary” order after Lisa was injured that Sean should have sole physical custody of the minor child has already turned into a year (and counting), and the court has ignored or misconstrued the minor child’s best interests throughout.

Part of a Tanya Ridino email to the therapist that she had involved in the case. She notes that Sean seems to make it appear that “HE is negatively influencing his minor child to not want to engage in this (therapeutic) process.” No shit, Sherlock!

This judicial error has had two major consequences. First, divorce law expresses a strong preference for both parents to be as involved as possible in their children’s upbringing. That preference has not been implemented at all here, for a year and counting. Lisa and her son had shared a warm and loving relationship until the night of the dispute. She has not seen him since: he has not talked to her since. Not once.

Second, because of its initial inaction and subsequent failure to properly examine the child’s best interests (or even set a schedule for so doing), the court appears to have enabled Sean to completely alienate his son from his own mother.

How? Well, the boy was not aware of any violence the night it happened, according to the police, although he did hear the row which led up to it. Yet in a process completed within three or four months after his mother was forcibly removed from his life, the boy cut off all of his regular pre-existing contacts with her, his half sister and her new family, his maternal aunts, uncles and cousins, his warm and doting maternal grandparents. . . . all of them without exception.

Dolly’s text to Sean pleading with him to let his son see his mother. (The son’s name is whited out three times). “There is no need to fear for your safety. I think you truly know that.”

Common sense and the sheer number of lost relationships, all on Lisa’s side of the family, suggests strongly that Sean separated his son from his mother and her entire family in a deliberate process of parental alienation.

Text exchange between Dolly and Sean, July 2019. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it!

In fact, Sean called some of Lisa’s closest friends, even family members, starting the night that he had her arrested and continuing.


To try to convince them how crazy Lisa was, because her craziness, and not his losing his temper and making up stories for the police, was how he wanted to explain and justify his having her arrested.

In a later text exchange with her friend Dolly, Sean regretted how “dysfunctional” Lisa’a entire family was: “it’s really tragic.” That’s what Sean texted to Lisa’s friend. “I don’t want (my son) to end up like any of them.” So that explains it. Sean freely tells Dolly why his son is no longer seeing any member of Lisa’s family, not the boy’s maternal grandparents, nobody. He doesn’t seem to notice that these are the negative feelings which he claims his son has himself.

Dolly is one of Lisa’s closest friends, who had shared with Lisa the horrible last years of her marriage. Yet he was still trying to convince her that Lisa’s entire side of the family deserved to be treated the way that he was treating them!

And if he could feed such crap to Lisa’s own close friends, mature adults with real knowledge of Lisa and how her marriage had evolved, what was he feeding to the children?

It appears that alienation of his children from their mother was a process that he started even before he had Lisa kicked out of her home.

Yes, that’s the Louvre’s Lisa in the background! Me’n’her having fun in Paris!

One example: after she told Sean that she had discovered his extensive Signal message strings with Sarah, teary eyed (that’s another of Sean’s tricks: acting emotions that he appears unable to feel) he had promised her the earth: well, a cottage in Galway and Irish citizenship, which is pretty close to heaven if you’re Irish!

The next day he sat the children down and give them a pep talk about Sarah. Perhaps he feared being badmouthed by Lisa.

Of course, Lisa would never have raised the Signal messages with them. She loves her children for themselves, and not for what they can do for her, instinctively understanding that she should not badmouth their father to his children.

Just as she understood that she should not cause him to be arrested in front of his minor child.

Sean didn’t understand that either: remember his non-emergency 911 call, made to protect himself lest difficult questions be asked at the ER? That unjustifiable call is what implicated the minor child here.

Parental alienation cases are unique in that these children, who may be youngsters or teenagers, live in a state of high emotional risk.  They live in a war zone, having been dragged by the alienating parent into their parents’ conflict and then convinced by the alienating parent to ally with them in treating the other as an enemy.

Sadly, the targeted parent is generally the healthier parent. Alienated children, however, must relinquish that formerly loving relationship in order to survive.  They have to hate the targeted parent to please the alienating parent on whom they have come to depend.
Severe Parental Alienation: A Mental Health Emergency | Psychology Today(opens in a new tab)

This is a selection from the online Organizers page of the Santa Cruz Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Meetup Group, showing the dates when Sean and Sarah joined the group, in July 2014: what you call a long-term relationship!

Sean told the children that Lisa’s therapist had planted in her head that he was having an affair with Sarah. Of course, he was doing no such thing! He admitted that he and Sarah wrote each other that they loved each other, but said that was just like the children telling their school friends that they loved them. Such a clever liar, isn’t he!

It got better. Sean also told the children that he was considering suing their mother’s therapist for malpractice and slander, because of what she had said to their mother. That’s pretty over the top, and it was classic triangulation of the children, pitting one parent (“I did not!”) against the other (“he did”) inside them. The children have both parents inside them, and conflict between them can rip the child apart, literally. The more parental conflict there is, and the more that the children are exposed to it, the more likely it is to hurt the children.

In this case, of course, Sean is the only parent continually immersing the minor child in parental conflict, because he is the only parent who has had a relationship with him since the boy abruptly stopped talking to his mother in April 2019, just as he was the only parent to raise the Signal messages with him. What he said to Dolly gives you an idea the half-truths, lies and complete fabrications he could be telling his son now, when there is no-one to hold him in check.

When experienced professionals are taken in by Sean’s gas lighting described earlier, then how can a child do any better? He can’t.

Here’s how a psychologist characterized the process of parental alienation in the Psychology Today blog post:

As alienated children become increasingly isolated from the healthier parent and therefore increasingly dependent on the alienating parent, these children generally no longer feel that they have the option of expressing positive views of their other parent. They dare not lose their one remaining parent and therefore suppress their authentic voices, the voices within them that whisper, “I used to love that other parent. I miss him/her,” or “The parent I am trusting is often good to me and often also scares me. Still, that’s the only parent I have left, so I better do what s/he wants. . . .

Alas, alienating parents are generally too narcissistic and emotionally volatile to be relied upon as nurturing caretakers.  Normal parents do not alienate; only parents with tendencies toward narcissism (It’s all about me), borderline functioning (excessive emotionality), and anti-social personalities (lying and callous with regards to hurting others) do alienation.  

And at the same time, alienated children, consciously or not, usually experience deep grieving, and also guilt, for the loss of the parent they used to love and now have rejected. . . .

Lisa gets on very well with my boys. Here she is sharing a glass of red wine with Arlo in Athens for his 30th birthday.

The institutional failures here, police, lawyers and judicial, have given Sean considerable rewards for the alienation of his minor child from Lisa. Look what he has obtained financially. First, he didn’t have the inconvenience or cost of moving out, despite committing domestic violence against Lisa on more than one occasion. Second, he avoided the child support and spousal support that he would have been ordered to pay if he had moved out.

Third, he transferred the risk of child support to Lisa, despite having been by far the higher earner during the last years of the marriage. Fourth, he has effortlessly held on to all of the community’s cash and other property at the end of the marriage. In fact, Lisa has already been ordered to pay child support, despite the Court’s still not having examined custody of the minor child. Again, backwards.

The court failed to even set a timeline for examining the minor child’s custody. That Psychology Today blog post again:

The current triangle of family court, therapists, and alienated children get stuck in a legal morass which can sometimes take years to yield decisions—and even then too often leaves the child in the custody of the alienator. . . .

. . . . The reality is that currently these children too often are . . . abused—by the alienating parent, . . . and by the expensive and interminable court system.

Her minor child is not alone.

Lisa too has been abused here:

by her husband, physically and emotionally;

by the police, forcing her out of her home in error;

by whoever caused her to have a mugshot online;

by lawyers for Monarch Services, the Santa Cruz association for abused wives, helping her husband against her;

by being completely separated from her children for a year and counting – “I’m missing their lives!”

by paying child support while by watching her children being alienated from her and from her entire warm-hearted Irish family; and

by the Court sitting silent and ill-informed on the sidelines.

I wonder sometimes how she keeps going.

And here she is on Nick’s birthday in Nantes.

She does, but the months pass slowly, and Lisa misses her children dreadfully. I’m spending a lot of time with her, trying to alleviate the pain whenever it surfaces, and the time that we spend together does help. But nothing stops the little things that trigger her tears, nothing fills the big hole inside her. This is the worst abuse for a good and loving mother.

Maybe that’s why Sean keeps fueling it.


NB 1: A lawyer friend read an earlier draft of this post, and suggested that I clarified that it concerns matters which I believe to be accurate, based on information available to me, some of which is reproduced in the post. In some cases, I can’t verify the accuracy of the facts described.

My lawyer friend explained: “In a conflict like this one, lawsuits aren’t unlikely and they are cheap to file. And scoundrels often have a big advantage because they will assert all kinds of outrageous things.Especially if they gas light constantly!

NB 2: There are several Sean Gilligans online. The others would likely not want to be confused with the Sean Gilligan who features here. His twitter feed is @msgilligan, and this is his github page.