Sunday, December 23, 2007

for unto us a child is born

These are among the worst kind of cases. Who to believe? In our jurisdiction we had a criminal case of aggravated kidnapping against a woman who had claimed her then 3-4 year old son had been sexually molested by his father, a military pilot. He was investigated and cleared by several agencies including the military.

In the meanwhile she filed for a change in custody civil suit, basically asking for full custody, and there was an independent psychiatrist appointed who believed that the wife posed a future risk for the child and exonerated the ex-husband and reccommended that he be given custody. The civil jury agreed and awarded him custody. She fled the courtroom and fled with the child to Mexico. She was finally caught three years later and a jury sentenced her to five years in prison. I did oral argument at the Court of Appeals in Austin on this matter just three months ago.

All of the families, both sides, become losers. The child is hidden away and no one sees them, interacts with them, or has normal relationships with them. It is heartbreaking.

I believe what the article says, that even if there is no abuse the other person believes absolutely there was. It happened in our case, she believes it happened, everything points to it not having happened.

Choosing Jail Over Joint Custody

The road to jail for April Griffin began soon after her son Jesse was born, though she would have never guessed it at the time. Because she had sought state aide for medical coverage for the child, the state brought suit to determine paternity. She said she signed the petition because she was told she had to, though she said she had not wanted child support from the boy's biological father.

That's routine, says Professor Robert Stenger of the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. "Things are different when you are poor," he said, noting that most states will press child support claims on behalf of mothers who are on welfare. Had she not been on aid and not sought child support, the issue of Matthew Sebuliba's paternity probably would not have been raised, Stenger said.

But it was, and once he was in court, Sebuliba began pressing for the rights that come with the responsibilities of being a father. Griffin was ordered to bring Jesse to a clinic where Sebuliba could have supervised visits with his son, but the child welfare workers would later testify that Griffin was notably clingy, uncooperative, and nearly hysterical during at least one such visit.
By the time the case reached Judge Michael Guolee on May 14, the judge would note early in the hearing that Griffin "was her own worst enemy." And when Griffin had finished cross-examining Sebuliba and other witnesses herself, she had only succeeded in convincing the judge to support Sebuliba. "I think he is a good father," he said. "He would be a good man. He is not going to hurt that baby."

Maybe, the judge said, Sebuliba's lack of involvement during her pregnancy was Griffin's fault. Said Goulee: "And you say, 'It is his fault, his fault. He is not seeing me when I am having a baby...' On the other hand, you may be denying him or pushing him away. I say to myself, what came first? Your pushing him away? Is that why [he] didn't have a relationship with the child?"

As the hearing ended, the judge also agreed to the father's request to change the baby's name from Jesse Moses Peter Emmanuel Griffin to Jesse Moses Griffin-Sebuliba. Griffin objected. "He already has a name," she said. "Too many names. I'm sorry. Too many names," Guolee replied.
Professor Judith McMullen of Marquette Law School said judges are often forced to rely on gut instincts about who is telling the truth in custody cases involving allegations — but little proof — of domestic violence. "It's a credibility issue, and judges often simply go with their intuition about who is telling the truth," McMullen told TIME. "These are very sad cases. People usually want to say well, for example, the mother is lying and the father is an innocent victim. But that is not usually the case. Even if there was no abuse, the mother often truly believes there was."