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PR for a Missing Mom Evolved Into A Series of Successful Legal Battles



Shortly after Susan Cox Powell went missing from her home in West Valley City, Utah more than five years ago, I was asked to help Charles and Judith Cox with public relations associated with their daughter’s disappearance. Little did I know that this was but the first step in a very long, tortured journey for everybody involved.

The case received national media attention due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding Susan’s disappearance, Susan’s husband’s Josh’s move to his father Steven’s Puyallup, Wash. home shortly thereafter, and the very public battle between the Powells and the Coxes over everything from Susan’s journals to custody of her two sons. Susan’s family and I were insistent that Josh be deprived custody amid mounting evidence of inappropriate behavior and word that the West Valley City PD was preparing to arrest Josh for murder.

My defined role as PR attorney drastically changed on Feb. 5, 2012,  when Josh Powell murdered his sons and himself during a state supervised visitation. I was devastated by the deaths and completely shocked when I learned more about the state’s failure to protect Charlie and Braden while in its custody and control.  What started as a simple PR campaign quickly turned into a crusade to ensure the protection of children while in state custody and to publicize the need for more protection for this vulnerable population.

Not long after Charlie and Braden died, I had the honor of working very closely with the Coxes and with State Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) to pass the Charlie and Braden Powell Act, which protects children in state custody proceedings that involve a parent who is a suspect in a violent crime.  The legislation importantly remembers these beautiful, young boys and aims to prevent similar tragedies.  If this legislation existed at the time Charlie and Braden were in state custody, they very well might still be alive.

These senseless deaths could have been prevented if the State of Washington and its social workers at the time had recognized and prioritized their duty to protect children.  Over the last eight years, the child-welfare division of the Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has paid out over $160 million to children who were tortured, starved, raped and sometimes killed while in its custody and care.

After the boys were killed, my law firm began investigating the state’s role in their deaths and quickly uncovered a constellation of failures.  It was evident that their deaths could and should have been prevented.  However, as evidenced by the substantial sums of money paid to victims over the last decade, neither DSHS nor its social workers believe a duty was owed to Charlie and Braden and nothing was done to protect them from the obvious danger that was their father.  The boys’ estates filed suit against DSHS in April 2013 and the case is set for trial in May 2016.

I was involved in other legal battles connected with the case. I successfully co-represented Susan’s family in litigation over the victims’ life insurance policies. And I successfully collected a  $2 million judgment for Steven Powell’s neighbor after the elder Powell was convicted of voyeurism.

The Coxes originally came to me because they were in crisis, and although that crisis has broadened, I never floundered in my representation of their needs and will continue to advocate for them as well as others in times of need.

As a PR and crisis management team member with Cavalry PR,  I’m very proud to be able to help clients on so many levels.

Litigation attorney Evan Bariault contributed to this post.