By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“What she wanted to do . . . was stop the emancipation. She wanted me to move with her to Las Vegas, give up my entire life, obviously, go to school there,” says Jena. “Basically, go back to the same situation that I had tried to get out of.” a
When she realized she’d been given the slip, Debbie went back to Vegas without Jena, and without any money.
“The money was frozen, I couldn‘t get it, she couldn’t get the money, and yet, she still had money,” says Debbie. “She had enough money to get on a plane and go to New York for a week. She had enough money to stay in a nice hotel. She had enough money to get an apartment. She had enough money to pay all her bills. Who was paying all that? Her team supplied her with money for those 30 days, and gave her whatever she wanted . . . I‘m not mad that I didn’t have it, I‘m mad that they were supporting her. She would not have been able to do what she did to me unless they did that for her.”
When Jena moved back to Los Angeles, Debbie followed, insisting that they get into counseling. Instead of showing up for a session, Jena had Debbie served with papers: With Lesley Brander acting as her legal guardian, she filed a suit in Superior Court seeking to prohibit Debbie from future access to her money. She also requested a restraining order.
“I was not allowed to see Jena. Or talk to her,” says Debbie. “I went to [the Hollywood Reporter YoungStar Awards], up at Universal Studios, and tried to talk to her, and bodyguards came up and said, ’Excuse me, ma‘am, we’ve been warned that you‘re here to cause disruption and to cause problems for this girl.’ . . . She won, for Stepmom. And she did not thank me when she went up there, and she used that platform to talk about how parents rip off children.” (As reported by the industry magazine Young Performer, Jena used her moment on the podium to encourage what she called “awareness of the business side of the profession.”)
The ensuing court battle was not much of a fight: While Jena retained one of L.A.‘s top entertainment attorneys, Marty Singer, Debbie could not afford to keep any of the 10 attorneys she contacted.
“They all took it on [the condition] that I would pay them within a week, and I never had any money,” she says, adding that she didn’t have time to file a motion to stop the emancipation.
On November 4, 1999, Singer filed a memorandum of points and authorities, citing Debbie‘s “irrational behavior” on the set of Cheaters and requesting that the court prevent her from controlling any aspect of Jena’s personal or professional life. The following week, Debbie was asked to sign a stipulation agreement in which she would promise to remove herself as a signatory on Jena‘s accounts, to relinquish her rights to any of Jena’s past or future earnings, to stop interfering with Jena‘s professional life, to stop trying to keep the emancipation from going through, and to “no longer ask Jena Malone for money for any purpose whatsoever.”
“I said, ’There‘s no way I can do that, because I am in so much trouble and Jena knows I’m in trouble, I can‘t sign that I’m not gonna ask her for money,‘” says Debbie. But on November 20, she did sign. On November 21, Jena turned 15.
“I knew one day she’d be living in a mansion and I‘d be in a two-bedroom,” says Debbie, sitting in her one-bedroom apartment, which, aside from the dozens of photos of Jena, she hasn’t bothered to decorate.
“You know, they never excluded me, but I wasn‘t invited,” she says, picking up a picture of Jena and Goldie Hawn at the Golden Globe Awards and mentioning a that, when she was pregnant, Hawn offered to take Jena along on a three-week family vacation. “And I thought that was great. But yeah, I wasn’t included.” She begins to cry. “And it wasn‘t hard for Jena to choose that over me.”
As far as the money, Debbie says her conscience is clear.
“I’m not ashamed of anything that has happened. Nothing. And I don‘t feel that I have done anything wrong or vicious or malicious,” she says. “Yes, we have a lot of money problems, but none of them are my fault! Not my fault solely, do you know what I’m saying? It‘s that I hired the wrong people, I wasn’t given the right information . . . I was the captain, I was always the captain, but the crew just totally got together and said, ‘We’re going to‘ -- what is that, mutiny? ’We‘re gonna do mutiny. We don’t care if the captain‘s in charge, we just don’t care.‘ . . . And this is what parents have to know, that they cannot walk into this unwise, ’cause I‘m telling you, they want the child, and they’ll take the child at any expense, and the brighter and the more talented the child is, the easier it is, because you tell the child, ‘You know what? You’re good, you‘re an adult, you can do this, why do you need your mom?’ And the child believes it, and guess what, it is so easy to just get rid of the parent. Well, let me tell you something. No one is gonna get rid of me, because I am gonna be here, standing, telling my truth for as long as it takes!”