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Mom who defied court in '80s returning to work

The deliveryman entered the doctor's office carrying a dozen white roses in a glass vase. "This 1414?" he asked. "Yes, it is," replied the doctor, rising from her seat.

"Elizabeth . . . ?" asked the deliveryman. "That's me," she said, interrupting him. Elizabeth Morgan.

The Elizabeth Morgan: the plastic surgeon who waged the 15-year custody battle with her ex-husband; who said he and his parents had sexually abused their daughter and who went to jail rather than let him see the child; who fled with her child to New Zealand to evade a judge's orders.

The Elizabeth Morgan who, after Congress passed a law clearing the way, returned to this country with her daughter last year after a seven-year absence and who Friday will reopen in suburban Maryland the plastic surgery practice she abandoned, it seems, a lifetime ago.

Elizabeth Morgan is back. Come a full chaotic circle, if you will. Twenty years after she opened her first practice as a 30-year-old Harvard-trained surgeon in McLean, Va., and years after her tortured domestic odyssey began, she has come home.

She says her life, once turbulent, has been serene since she came back to the area last May, although her ex-husband, Eric A. Foretich, a McLean oral surgeon, has continued to fight the situation in the courts.

"We have led a very contented, normal life here at home for a year," she said. "And I expect that to continue."

But last year, Foretich and his parents filed suit in federal court challenging the "Elizabeth Morgan law" that enabled her return. They charged it was unconstitutional and deprived them of the right to refute her unproven allegations that they had sexually abused the little girl.

A judge later denied a motion by Morgan and others to have the suit dismissed. The Foretiches' attorney said Wednesday that he believes the federal court will find the law unconstitutional, bringing the case back toward square one.

"Unfortunately, the Foretiches will continue to bear the undeserved burden of continued litigation without seeing their granddaughter or daughter, despite court orders to the contrary," said the attorney, Jonathan Turley. He said that Eric Foretich has been nearly bankrupted by legal fees, taking in boarders to pay the bills, and that his daughter "has become the unwitting casualty of this litigation."

Foretich could not be reached for comment.

Morgan declines to discuss, or permit an interview with, her 15-year-old daughter _ once called Hilary, now known as Ellen _ who is the object of a blood feud. Morgan says her daughter, who lives with her and attends high school in Montgomery County, is "a great American kid" but deserves her privacy.

She says she has tried to put the bitter domestic dispute "where it belongs" and say to herself: "Life now is normal. It's happy. It's wonderful. It's sort of like a dream come true. I've got my family. I've got my friends. . . . I've got my practice."

But it sounds a little like a chant, and when she tries to say she has "resolved" things, the word comes out incomplete.

She said she has no regrets about the decisions she made, although her path was often anguished and led, she says, through the Bible's "valley of the shadow of death."

"I've never regretted doing the right thing," she said. "And I know I did the right thing."

She said she harbors "very appropriate" anger at parts of her life's 15-year deviation, but adds, "I've never been an angry person, and I don't feel angry now."

Morgan said that, aided by stock market investments made for her by a brother, she has spent the last year retraining in her field. "Now," she said, "I'm ready to go."

Morgan's saga, which would eventually generate books, films, titanic legal grappling and global titillation, began when she and her husband were divorced in 1982 and began battling over their infant daughter.

They waged war in court over visitation and custody. And in 1985, Morgan charged in graphic detail that her husband, and his parents, had maltreated, threatened and sexually abused the child _ accusations they have always denied. Foretich said Morgan was mentally disturbed.

Two years later, the little girl vanished after Morgan refused to hand her over for court-ordered visitation. Foretich had been granted visitation rights when courts ruled that Morgan had failed to prove her claims of grotesque child abuse.

The child, then called Hilary _ and still called Hilary by the Foretich camp _ had been spirited to New Zealand by Morgan's parents after a journey that took them from Washington to Europe and Asia to escape the courts.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. ordered Morgan jailed for defying his visitation orders and refusing to tell where the child was. She remained incarcerated in the district jail for 25 months before being freed in 1989 by a special act of Congress sponsored by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., who was sympathetic to her case.

Shortly after her release, she joined her daughter and parents in New Zealand, where they were eventually permitted to stay. But the family's experience abroad was mixed. Morgan said she missed home "every single day."