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By Darlene Gavron Stevens, Tribune Staff Writer

Web-posted Friday, October 24, 1997; 6:08 a.m. CDT

Clutching her purse to the front of her jogging suit, Bess Kontos squared her shoulders as a bailiff led her to Will County Jail Thursday, where she will begin serving a two-week sentence for contempt of court in her divorce case.

Handcuffs and leg chains would later be placed on the Bolingbrook mother, who has repeatedly refused to punish her two teenagers for not visiting their father since 1995, saying it was their decision to make.

Throughout three years of proceedings, and even after reluctantly granting Kontos custody in March on the condition that the children get counseling, Will County Associate Judge Robert Lorz has threatened her with jail.

But until Thursday, Kontos had always escaped the most severe punishment.

Kontos said she would rather be jailed than be forced to deliver a copy of her divorce judgment to the state child welfare agency so it can begin supervising her case.

Lorz found Kontos in criminal contempt of court after she refused to follow his Oct. 7 order to hand over the judgment, which spells out why and how the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services should get involved.

"He (Lorz) says I have mentally abused my children," said Kontos, whose children are straight-A students and swimmers. "I have not abused my children, and I am not going to report myself as a child abuser."

Peter Kapsimalis, 15, said he and his sister Galatea, 17, think the judge's finding of abuse is "absurd."

"We are not abused, she has never done anything to abuse us," said Peter, whose uncle is staying at the Kontos home until his mother's return. "She lets us think for ourselves, and then she gets in trouble for it."

Kostas Kapsimalis and his attorney, Christopher Rouskey, said the punishment was a sad but necessary step toward persuading Kontos to obey the judge and get the children to counseling.

"Never did I believe it would reach this point and that she would be in prison," said Kapsimalis, who lives in Shorewood with his sister. "I did not wish for this to happen, ever. I want my children to acknowledge that I exist. I want them to know I fought for them."

Jailing in divorce cases is uncommon enough that some legal observers wondered aloud just how personal the visitation battle had become.

"If he (Lorz) were asking her to do something only she could do, it might be different," said Jonathan Baum, a Chicago attorney who helped write a friend-of-the-court brief in another high-profile Will County visitation case. "To punish her for not doing what he can do himself shows that it's punitive."

Others noted that high emotions often make it more difficult for all parties to listen to one another, but by the system's design, the judge always gets the last word.

"It's uncommon for (a family court) judge to reach for that remedy (jailing), but it does not mean it is inappropriate," said Sandra Murphy, past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "A judge has only so many remedies" to resolve tough cases.

Thursday's jailing culminated years of courtroom sparring that began a few months after Kostas Kapsimalis filed for divorce in 1994.

The children began snubbing their father and told him they no longer loved him because he left them.

The stand-off came to a head in 1995, when Lorz found the children in contempt for not complying with visitation and threatened them with jail.

Later, Lorz focused his attention on the mother, and ultimately agreed with Kostas that Kontos had brainwashed the children and turned them against him.

Rouskey said Thursday that Kontos was a "misguided martyr" and stressed that Kapsimalis had a good relationship with his children before the marital problems began.

"The children feel they are betraying the mother if they show affection

to the father," Rouskey said. "She told Kostas, 'If you file for

divorce, you will never see your children again.' "

Peter said the jailing has strengthened the teenagers' resolve never to see their father.

"Now that the judge and my father have done this to our mother, we took a vow never to speak to (Kostas) or do anything involving him again."

Peter said he and Galatea drove their mother to the courthouse and waited at home for her to call. She told them on the phone the sentence will be over in seven days if she earns time for good behavior, Peter said.

"I'm trying to be as brave as my mom is," said Peter, his voice shaking. "We're very proud of her, because she's fighting for her rights. The only thing we can do is wait (the jailing) out."

A DCFS spokesman said Thursday the agency has not received any report about the Kapsimalis children. He said it is usually the judge or a court staff member who requests the agency's involvement.

The spokesman said the agency is rarely involved in visitation oversight involving cases of mental abuse, noting that its priority is cases of physical abuse and neglect.