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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sandbox Caper Puts Kids in Court

BOSTON -- For generations, maybe forever, parents have been telling their children to settle their differences with words, not fists. But usually those words didn't include phrases like "subpoena,'' "restraining order'' or "temporary injunction.''


That was before the sandbox case, pitting a 3-year-old girl and her mother against a 3-year-old boy and his mother.


In a possible index of the soaring litigiousness of American society, a literal sandbox squabble has turned into a full-blown legal case between statutory grown-ups, their lawyers and the state Superior Court.


The result so far: several red faces and one preliminary civil injunction that will keep the 3-year-olds -- and their parents -- apart.


It all began Feb. 27, in the sandbox at Charles River Park, a tony complex of high-rise apartments and condominiums, with a commanding view of the Charles River and within walking distance of several courthouses.


On the aforementioned day, the 3-year-old daughter of Anne Pevnev was playing with the 3-year-old son of Margareth Inge. The two families are neighbors, and the two children go to the same pre-school. Neither party has any criminal record.


While playing, Inge's boy, Jonathan, allegedly struck Pevnev's girl, Stacey. What happened next is a matter of some very heated dispute.


Pevnev put it this way in her official complaint about the incident: "My daughter came to me and told me that a boy was kicking her. I told her to tell him to stop and not to play with him."


So far, so good.


"I told him not to kick or hit her and to stay away from her. His mother told me I had no right to talk to her son like that. A bit later I saw him take a swing at her head with his foot. ... I ran up and shouted at him to stop kicking her in the head and rebuked him.


"The mother took exceptional offense at this and started screaming at me and yelling at the top of her lungs at both myself and my daughter," Pevnev said and then asked the court for relief.


"I demand that this child and his mother not be allowed to come to the playground when my daughter is there... I want them out of the playground Monday through Friday, 5 to 7 p.m., and out of the swimming pool area whenever [my daughter] is there."


Judge Charles Spurlock issued a temporary restraining order to keep Jonathan away from Stacey, then summoned the parties to court last Monday for a hearing. After learning in court that the parties were still in diapers, he modified his order somewhat.


"The defendant and plaintiff be enjoined and restrained from having any verbal contact with one another," he wrote, "and we ORDER you and said defendant to keep each child supervised and separated from each other while in the playground area." Anyone violating the order can be held in contempt of court.


The case is quickly becoming a flashpoint.


Attorney Howard Speicher, who represents the 3-year-old boy, says the entire affair has gotten out of hand. But Speicher, who is a neighbor of both women and handling the case for free, said he believed that Inge needed someone to stick up for her interests, even if the case is frivolous.


Roderick MacLeish, a prominent Boston attorney and frequent litigator in civil matters, said this kind of incident taints all lawyers in the public's mind and overshadows the good works they do.


"But obviously, if we have reached the point where 3-year-olds are seeking restraining orders -- and judges are granting them! -- then we need to take a serious look at what's going on in this country," MacLeish said.