MORRISTOWN, N.J. — A New Jersey high school cheerleader who filed a lawsuit against her parents has returned home, but her lawyer charged Wednesday that her parents are pressuring her to withdraw her suit, according to new court documents.
Tanya Helfand, lawyer for 18-year-old Rachel Canning, filed an emergency application to seal records, close the courtroom and have a guardian appointed for the young woman who made international headlines when she filed suit Feb. 24 in the Family Division of state Superior Court here asking for continued financial support even though she had moved from her parents' house.
"This is a private matter," the parents' lawyer, Angelo Sarno, said at an afternoon press conference that was held while the application was being filed. Canning returned to her parents' home Tuesday night after 4½ months away. "It should never have been brought to the court's attention. It should have never been brought to the public."
Judge Peter Bogaard denied Helfand's emergency request, court documents show. Helfand could not be reached immediately for comment.
"My clients will be known for this for quite some time," said Sarno, who asked for privacy for parents Sean and Elizabeth Canning and their three children. They have been dealing with the pain of intense publicity that the parents and two younger daughters did not seek in addition to the rift with their oldest daughter. "As far as my clients are concerned, it's over. It's done."
None of the family appeared at the press conference, and Sarno said all are at the beginning of a long process of reconciliation.
Sarno said the lawsuit had not been withdrawn, but he wanted to answer questions so the family would be left alone to heal.
In her lawsuit, Rachel Canning has been seeking a declaration of non-emancipation — or continuing financial dependence on her family. She wanted Bogaard to award her $654 weekly in child support and make her parents pay her upcoming college tuition.
Her best friend's father, lawyer John Inglesino, has been financing the suit, which already has racked up more than $13,000 in legal fees. He took a public bruising because of his involvement in what Sean and Elizabeth Canning contend is a private family matter.
Inglesino would not comment Wednesday.
Rachel Canning, a Morris Catholic High School senior, claimed her parents "constructively abandoned" her, mostly because she would not break up with her boyfriend. She moved out of their house Oct. 30, two days before she turned 18, and had been living with the Inglesinos in Rockaway Township, N.J., since then.
"Just a few days ago, Rachel Canning indicated that she could not go back home with her parents and she required a promise of some financial assistance going forward," Helfand wrote in her application. "Now, after speaking with her mother yesterday, she said she is waiving her complaint and is receiving no promises or consideration in return.
"The court did not determine if she is emancipated or not. A psychologist certified that the parents are abusive. School faculty certified that the parents abused the child," the filing states. "It is critical that if Rachel does dismiss this matter that it be done of her own free will and not due to the extreme pressure of her parents and the media."
At his press conference, Sarno would not elaborate on why Rachel Canning suddenly return home and was ambiguous on why she had not withdrawn her lawsuit.
"This blossomed into something no one wanted, no one expected," Sarno said. "This isn't about casting blame. We need to move on."
The high school honor student and lacrosse player left home after a tumultuous stretch during which her parents separated and reconciled and the teen began getting into uncharacteristic trouble at school. She had asked that her parents be ordered to settle an outstanding $5,306 Morris Catholic tuition bill; pay her current living and transportation expenses; and use an existing college fund for their daughter, who received acceptance letters from several universities and has to make a decision this spring.
She hopes to become a biomedical engineer.
"From a Morris Catholic perspective, it's great news," Rich Sokerka, a Diocese of Paterson, N.J., spokesman, said when he heard that Rachel Canning had moved back to her childhood home. "They're very happy she's returning home to her family."
Bogaard urged family therapy and reconciliation in a March 4 preliminary hearing and said the case was in uncharted legal waters. Courts typically rule on college costs when parents are divorcing.
"It is the goal of the Cannings to be present at their child's graduations, her wedding and at the birth of their grandchildren," Sarno said.
The case could be dismissed before it is scheduled for trial April 22. If the trial were to continue, the judge would have to decide whether Rachel Canning is non-emancipated and entitled to parental support or voluntarily emancipated herself in October by refusing to follow household rules and moving out.
A judge has denied a New Jersey teen's preliminary requests for child support and access to her college funds. Rachel Canning sued her parents, claiming they threw her out because they didn't approve of her boyfriend. VPC