JOSHUA TREE — Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73, will be allowed supervised visits with their three children, a judicial officer ruled Tuesday.
Kirk and Panico appeared in court Tuesday to contest the criminal protective order that banned them from having any contact with their children, whom they are accused of abusing.
The original order banned all forms of contact, including digital contact, and mandated that the parents must stay at least 100 yards from the children at all times.
The order was made in their March 2 arraignment hearing, where Panico and Kirk were charged with three counts of felony child abuse after their three children, ages 14, 13 and 11, were found to be living in a plywood box on the couples’ Joshua Tree property.
Kirk and Panico had not seen their children since the order was put in place.
In court, lead defense attorney Michael Kennedy argued that the order was unlawful because it was ordered before an investigation took place. He also noted that while the order was in effect, the couple would be unable to possess a gun and their travel would be restricted.
In his written objection to the protective order Kennedy said, “ Any order which is made in the absence of notice, without the opportunity for a hearing, and which is not supported by findings of fact based upon substantial competent evidence, cannot be described as anything other than arbitrary.”
With this claim, Kennedy asked the protective order to be dropped completely but prosecutor Ron Webster said as a case involves child abuse allegations, it should be considered as a domestic violence matter. “It is important to protect the victim of the accused,” he said in court.
Judicial officer Joel Agron ruled that the order will be amended to allow the parents scheduled and supervised visitation in compliance with Child Family Services requirements.
The matter will be reheard after evidence can be brought forward from both sides in the preliminary trial, which has been moved to April 12 because the arresting officer will be out of town for the remainder of the month.
Kirk and Panico have met with the county Children and Family Services department, which is beginning an investigation into the family, said Kirk’s attorney, Elizabeth Crabtree.
This investigation is separate from the criminal trial, but the couple’s attorneys hope that compliance with CFS and contact with their children will be helpful to the family and Kirk and Panico’s case.
More than $58,000 donated online
Since they were released from jail on March 6, the couple has been working with other community members to get into a stable home. Close friend Jackie Klear started a GoFundMe page for them while they were in jail. As of Wednesday, the page had raised over $58,000, money that will go directly to buying them a home, said Klear.
The couple is currently staying with friends as the house that they will soon buy is being renovated by volunteers. They will be staying there free of charge while they go through the legal channels of buying the house.
“Saturday we had about 30 volunteers come out and clean the yard and pull carpet to fix up the house. We also brought in volunteer experts on Sunday, including contractors and electricians,” Klear said.
Kirk and Panico plan to move into their new house by the end of the week with the hope that a stable living environment will help them gain back custody of their children, said Klear.