The Madlyn Primoff Case: Child Endangerment or Just Discipline?

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on April 22, 2009 11:45 AM

A New York mom/attorney might have met her toughest legal opponent in the form of her two fighting kids. Madlyn Primoff, a partner at a respected New York law firm, apparently just couldn't take it anymore after her two children, ages 10 and 12, bickered in the car. Primoff's solution? Get out! She gave the kids the boot and drove off (they were reportedly about 3 miles away from home).

As reported by the Journal News/LoHud.com, the 12-year-old managed to catch up to her mom and was allowed back in the car, but the 10-year-old wasn't so lucky (or fast?). She ended up getting picked up by a passerby who saw her crying, "bought her ice cream and contacted White Plains police." Primoff later reported the younger daughter to police as missing, and was told that she was safe at another police station. But when Madlyn showed up to pick her up, she was promptly arrested for misdemeanor child endangerment.

Reactions of shock, or perhaps even some sympathy, are probably understandable. But the case does raise some interesting questions about the limits of child endangerment law. New York's child endangerment law makes it a misdemeanor crime if a person "knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than seventeen years old". Also, a parent can be guilty of the same if he or she "fails or refuses to exercise reasonable diligence in the control of such child to prevent him from becoming an "abused child," a "neglected child," a "juvenile delinquent" or a "person in need of supervision," as the terms are defined under New York law.

But what if, for example, the children had been a block away from home when they were left behind? Or if they were older? The endangerment law appears to leave a substantial amount of room for interpretation as to what exactly can be considered "injurious" to a child's mental, physical, and yes, moral, well-being. Noteably, the AP today reported that Madlyn Primoff "is no longer barred from living or talking with her 10- and 12-year-old daughters." Now this is just a guess, but it seems pretty likely that all involved have ... well ... learned their lesson.