Tara Coronado, a 45-year-old mother of four, sat in a nondescript Austin courtroom six years ago during a custody fight with her ex-husband, biting her tongue as the judge dressed her down.
“There is a huge amount of anger coming from you,” said Judge Susan Sheppard. “You deny it and are obviously not recognizing how almost every piece of information you give the Court is tinged by, tainted by, influenced by your overwhelming anger and hurt.”
Coronado was angry. A slender Mexican-American woman with long dark hair and a whip-quick mind, she’d scraped her way up from a New Mexico trailer park to serve in the Peace Corps and graduate from the University of Texas Law School. She married Ed Cunningham, a former football star turned lawyer and businessman, and had three boys and a girl. And she’d stayed home to raise them, for long stretches on her own, through a tumultuous 15-year-marriage that broke down when she discovered her husband had bought a second house across town where he was having an affair with another woman.
Outside their custody battle, Cunningham was facing a separate criminal charge of assaulting Coronado shortly before their divorce—allegations he adamantly denied. In a 2013 police report that included photographs of her injuries, Coronado told authorities that he’d punched her in the face, kneed her in the chest and dragged her by her hair across the road, resulting in a black eye, bruises and abrasions on her back and legs. Coronado obtained an emergency protection order, and Cunningham was arrested.
But a year later, in front of the court, it was Coronado under scrutiny. Cunningham’s attorney and a court-appointed therapist cast her as vindictive and unstable, fabricating abuse claims in retaliation for his infidelity; insulting his new wife; and poisoning their children against him.