Snyder, Ex-Wife Both Lose Custody of Their Daughter

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder and his former wife, Michele Noval, both lost custody of their 9-year-old daughter Tuesday, after a brief, closed hearing in Dependency Court.

After studying an evaluation prepared by the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services, Judge Edward Kakita found that living in either household would be “detrimental” to the girl’s well-being and ordered her placed in a foster home, preferably a group home where she can receive treatment for emotional problems, sources close to the case told The Times.

The report, which included the results of psychiatric examinations of the three and a study of the home situation, along with the judge’s decision were sealed.

Neither Snyder nor Noval contested the report.


Grandparents Also Fail

The child’s grandparents, who had asked that she be allowed to live with them, also failed to gain custody, sources said.

The girl has been held in protective custody since Nov. 15, first at MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte, the county’s shelter for abused and neglected children, and later in a private foster home, after she told a psychologist that her father had molested her several times four or five years ago.

Sexual abuse was one of several allegations, including excessive discipline and child endangering, made against Snyder, 52, and Noval, 30, in a petition filed last fall by the county Department of Public Social Services. The allegations surfaced while the girl was being treated for anxiety as her parents both fought for custody.


During an eight-day closed adjudication hearing that ended last Christmas Eve, Kakita considered testimony from at least eight witnesses. Those testifying included two physicians, who said their examination of the girl disclosed physical evidence indicative of earlier sexual abuse.

The judge then sustained most of the allegations, including the molestations.

The sole purpose of Tuesday’s hearing, known as a disposition hearing, was to determine where the girl will live.

Review in Six Months


County officials said they are permitted by law to take a child from a parent’s custody when there is danger to the child’s physical health, the parent is unwilling to care for the youngster, the child is suffering emotional damage, or has been sexually abused. The Snyder child’s living arrangements will be reviewed in six months.

Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office said Tuesday that it has not yet reached a decision on whether to file criminal charges of child sexual abuse against Snyder.

The councilman already has announced that he intends to resign his council post July 1.

Roger Gunson, head deputy of the district attorney’s sex crimes and child abuse division, said no decision has been made because a transcript of the December Dependency Court hearing was completed only last week. He said his office will need “one or two weeks” to study the transcript before taking any action.


Has Been Depressed

A source involved in the case said the child had been very depressed after testifying against her parents in the civil proceedings, but now is “doing well in a good foster home.”

Snyder, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, refused to testify at the December hearing, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. He has publicly denied ever molesting his daughter, blaming the allegations on his former wife who, he said, communicated “her frustration, anger and mentally ill fantasies to our daughter . . . .”

The couple divorced in 1978.


Shoplifting Charge

After several years of family disputes, Snyder sought custody of his daughter last November, when Noval was arrested on a charge of shoplifting in a Glendale department store. During the arrest, police said, Noval began screaming at the girl, “All this is your fault” and hit her.

Snyder was granted temporary custody on Nov. 15, and the girl was forcibly removed from her mother’s apartment.

However, later the same day, police officers took the child from Snyder because of the molestation allegations.