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Lawmaker battles for custody of maid's child

 
 
Reply Thu 19 Aug, 2004 06:21 pm
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 3,624 • Replies: 25
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Aug, 2004 06:54 pm
This is interesting and I'll be reading along for upates and comments.

I wouldn't think that the Helfins stand a chance.
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Aug, 2004 08:59 pm
crazy
I don't see anything in the article to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that either of the child's parents are unfit. The "lawmaker" and his wife appear to be interfering third parties. They wouldn't even have standing to sue for custody in most states.

If the child is "neglected" in any way, you call Social Services--you don't simply claim that you can give the child a better home and file for custody. I can't believe the case wasn't immediately thrown out of court.

The "statistical evidence" concerning black males ending up in jail was ridiculous. These parents cannot change their skin color to satisfy the "lawmaker" and his wife. If the day ever comes when black people in America are denied the right to raise their own children out of fear that their children will be future criminals, I'm going to apply for a passport and leave.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Aug, 2004 09:00 pm
I can only figure, the man being a legislator, they take him more seriously than he deserves.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Aug, 2004 08:38 am
It sounds like the Heflins are acting like strict utilitarians. This is, I think, a far more interesting philosophical problem than a legal question.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Aug, 2004 03:34 pm
Ruling delayed in custody fight over boy
By ROMA KHANNA
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

A ruling in the custody squabble between state Rep. Talmadge Heflin and the boy's mother was put off today after it was decided that the mother may need an interpreter.


Heflin, a Houston Republican who chairs the House Finance Committee, and his wife are seeking permanent custody of Fidel Odimara Jr., the son of African illegal immigrants.

The Heflins say the mother, Mariam Katamba, was a house guest who showed little interest in her child. Katamba maintains she was the Heflins' maid and that Janice Heflin simply helped her take care of the baby when she started working outside their home.

The two sides were be back in court today for a hearing in which Family District Judge Linda Motheral could have ruled on who will keep the boy until a final decision is made on permanent custody, which could take months.

Heflin and his wife now are trying to have the child's father removed from the dispute after learning that the mother is married to someone else, although she is seeking a divorce.

Some issues in the custody battle between a state lawmaker and the parents of a 20-month-old boy may be murky, experts said Thursday, but the law clearly favors the biological parents.

"You don't acquire the right to be a parent of a child simply because you have a superior résumé," said Richard Carlson, a professor at the South Texas College of Law who specializes in family law. "There is a strong presumption in favor of the parents in custody cases."

Experts said there are two primary legal issues: whether the people seeking custody have a valid claim, which is called standing; and whether their reasons for wanting the child are compelling.

"It isn't supposed to be easy for a non-parent, even a grandparent, to get standing," said Laura Oren, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. "You wouldn't want the mailman to come along and say, 'I don't like the way you are raising your kids. I think I'll sue.' "


Law in favor of parents

Under the law, a small circle of people can make legitimate claims for custody, including a child's parents, the child himself and a step-parent, if one or both of the biological parents is dead.

The Heflins are citing a provision in the law that allows standing for someone who has had continuous care, control and possession of the child for more than six months. They argue that, after moving into their house, Katamba left Fidel primarily in their care.

"It is not that cut-and-dried, especially in a case like this, what (continuous possession) means," Carlson said. "If I go and live with someone, does that mean they have the actual care, control and possession of my child? I don't believe that is what the law intended."

Though she lived with the Heflins, Katamba said, she never relinquished her role as her son's primary caregiver.

Beyond establishing that they have a valid claim to the child, the Heflins must show there is a convincing reason he should be taken from his biological parents. Such reasons could include danger to the child or possible emotional harm because he has bonded with the Heflins.

"My guess is that they are going to have to show there is some immediate danger to the child if he is turned over to the parents, to overcome the parental presumption," said Stewart Gagnon, a partner at the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski who helped to rewrite the state's family law code in 1993.

The Heflins allege that Fidel Odimara Sr. has been reckless with his son, tossing him in the air and banging his feet, and has said he might take the boy to his native Nigeria.

Talmadge Heflin also said he and his wife could provide more opportunities for the child.

"We all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison," he testified Wednesday.

But Katamba and Odimara deny the abuse allegations and say the Heflins are trying to use their assets and political power to take their child.


Ruling could bolster case

Before permanent custody is decided, the judge must determine who will keep the boy during the legal process.

Experts said this ruling, which could come today, could have major impact on the Heflins' efforts to win permanent custody.

"The potential problem with granting temporary custody to the non-parents is that it could be used to bolster their standing when it comes to permanent custody," Oren said.

Experts also questioned why a judge signed an order July 27 to give the Heflins the boy, who had been with his mother since July 19, until temporary custody is resolved.

"Unless there is a serious immediate question regarding an emergency with the child, that typically does not happen," Oren said.

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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Aug, 2004 03:46 pm
Re: Lawmaker battles for custody of maid's child
This statement is just weird:

edgarblythe wrote:
The Heflins, meanwhile, testified that they could provide better opportunities for the boy.

"We all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison," Talmadge Heflin said.
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Aug, 2004 04:04 pm
They don't have standing
We briefly discussed this on another thread. A natural parent has the paramount, fundamental, constitutionally-protected right to the custody of her own children to the exclusion of all others except in two instances: 1) The parent is unfit; or 2) Extraordinary circumstances.

I can't see where the Heflins even have standing to challenge the natural parents' paramount right to custody of their own child. The Heflins have not even presented a prima facie case establishing unfitness or extraordinary circumstances. The case should have been thrown out. The fact that the judge didn't dismiss the case for failure to state a claim smacks of oppression directed against two illegal immigrants from Nigeria.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Aug, 2004 04:07 pm
I agree with both of you. No way this case should have gotten so far.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Aug, 2004 11:52 am
I read the first post and understand that two of the Heflins' arguments are that the natural parents shouldnt be allowed to raise their own child because:

- in America, black male children are likely to end up in prison
- on the other hand, these Nigerian parents might actually choose to, gasp, raise their own child in their own country.

What next, are they going to adopt all premature children born in Nigeria because raising one there "is not what you do with a premature child. ... There is fighting and everything"?

Ridiculous.
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littlek
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Aug, 2004 12:04 pm
unbelievable.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 04:38 pm
Judge dismisses case of lawmaker seeking to adopt immigrants' son
By ROMA KHANNA
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

A judge today dismissed the case in which state Rep. Talmadge Heflin and his wife were seeking custody of the 20-month-old son of African illegal immigrants.


Family District Judge Linda Motheral ordered the boy returned to his mother this afternoon, bringing an end to the high-profile custody battle that appeared as if it could take months to resolve.

"The law is very clear that the best interest of the child will be served if the biological parents bring him up in their own culture, in their own way," said Mathew Nwogu, one of the lawyers who represented the parents. "The mother and the father are very excited and at least they can say there is justice in the U.S. of A."

Heflin, a Houston Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and his wife, Janice, were seeking permanent custody of Fidel Odimara Jr., the son of a woman who had lived in their house for more than a year. The Heflins claimed that the mother took little interest in the child and essentially had left him in their care while she lived with them.

But Mariam Katamba, who says she was the Heflins' maid, said the lawmaker and his wife were nothing more than helpers or baby-sitters who watched her son when she found a job outside their home.

Motheral sided with Katamba.

"The court, having heard all testimony and relevant issues, finds that (the Heflins) do not have standing, and the court on its own motion, dismisses the case," Motheral wrote.

Establishing standing is the first legal hurdle that must be cleared by someone seeking custody of a child.

In Texas, those who could have a valid claim to a child include the parents, the child himself and, in some cases, a step-parent.

Even grandparents do not automatically have standing under the law.

The Heflins argued that they had a valid claim to the boy under a provision of the law that allows attempts at custody by someone who has care, control and possession of a child for more than six months.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 04:48 pm
Whew.

I mean there are certainly situations in which the child's interests are better served if people other than his/ her parents raise him/ her. But this really didn't seem like one of those situations.
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Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 04:52 pm
Finally
edgarblythe wrote:
Judge dismisses case of lawmaker seeking to adopt immigrants' son

By ROMA KHANNA

. . . "The court, having heard all testimony and relevant issues, finds that (the Heflins) do not have standing, and the court on its own motion, dismisses the case," Motheral wrote.

Establishing standing is the first legal hurdle that must be cleared by someone seeking custody of a child. . . .


Finally! I was beginning to think the State of Texas occupied space in the twilight zone.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 04:59 pm
I have lived here half of my life and still don't understand such thinking.
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squinney
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 05:03 pm
Debra - Me, too. I don't think, however, that the outcome would have been the same had this case not been made public.

What do you think, from a legal stand point, about the Heflins being given temporary custody to begin with, and without considering legal standing first? Makes me wonder if she was leaning towards the Heflins, perhaps because of connections, and would have made a different decision if it hadn't been reported.

Considering the best interest of the child, to me, would mean leaving the child with his mother until a decision on standing is made, given that there was no supported evidence of danger to the child. I was shocked that temp. custody would be given so easily and consider THAT to be harmful to the child considering his age and bonding.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 05:05 pm
You are most likely correct that secrecy could have meant a different resolution. I felt from the first that the case deserved all the sunlight that could be poured on it.
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 06:44 pm
A Letter From a Chronicle reader:

LETTERS
On Heflins' custody battle
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle



It is a terrible day for all children when a powerful legislator [state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston] can go to court and get a judge to give him and his wife temporary custody of another person's child [see the Chronicle's Aug. 20 article "Ruling today key to custody / Heflins could benefit from temporary order in bid for child"].

I guess this is because Heflin thinks that because he is white he is in a better position to raise a black child and keep him out of prison.

If he is so concerned about black children and prison, he should pass legislation to keep black men from being imprisoned unjustly!

Or he could pass legislation to see that those persons who are imprisoned would have an opportunity to learn a good skill while they are there.

Heflin should be passing legislation to better fund the educational system and make schools more inviting for all children.

If he is so concerned, he could see to it that health insurance is available for all children.

The Heflins and the judge who awarded them temporary custody should hang their heads in shame.

I hope and pray that justice will prevail and that this baby will be returned to his parents.

There are plenty of children in the welfare system who need parents. Why doesn't he apply for one of those?
0 Replies
 
Debra Law
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 07:28 pm
squinney wrote:
Debra - Me, too. I don't think, however, that the outcome would have been the same had this case not been made public.

What do you think, from a legal stand point, about the Heflins being given temporary custody to begin with, and without considering legal standing first? Makes me wonder if she was leaning towards the Heflins, perhaps because of connections, and would have made a different decision if it hadn't been reported.

Considering the best interest of the child, to me, would mean leaving the child with his mother until a decision on standing is made, given that there was no supported evidence of danger to the child. I was shocked that temp. custody would be given so easily and consider THAT to be harmful to the child considering his age and bonding.


I agree with edgarblythe. Without the power of the shining light of day upon the dark (underhanded) deeds of powerful people, the parents of the child at issue would most likely be the victims of continued governmental oppression.

Heflin twisted and manipulated the state law in attempt to conjur up "standing" to sue for custody where no standing existed. You can't even get your foot in the court house doors without standing. Even if you can get past the standing hurdle, you have to state a claim that is legally cognizable. In my opinion, the judge that granted temporary custody to the Heflins is a moron for two reasons: 1) the petitioning parties (the Heflins) obviously had no standing to sue for custody; and 2) the Heflins failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I believe there are probably judges in every jurisdiction who will sign just about any ex parte order placed in front of their faces and will sort it out later. (Practicing lawyers soon learn who they are--and if you want an emergency order signed right now--you know which judge to approach.) There are some judges who simply choose to err on the side of caution when presented with allegations of an emergency that require immediate action to protect a child. However, this case went far beyond the standing issue and a hearing was held on temporary custody that delved into the core issues concerning the merits of the case.

The case should have been dismissed immediately! But for the publicity, I doubt that the case would have been dismissed. However, once the case became public, all the legal scholars were screaming "lack of standing" and the judge apparently read the newpaper articles.

I'm profoundly disappointed with the legal representation of the natural parents. Note that the article states that the judge (court) on its OWN MOTION (sua sponte) dismissed the case for lack of standing. That means the natural parents' attorney did not motion the court to dismiss for lack of standing. In my opinion, another moron.

****
sua sponte
: (sooh-uh spahn-tay) adj. Latin for "of one's own will," meaning on one's own volition, usually referring to a judge's order made without a request by any party to the case. These include an order transferring a case to another judge due to a conflict of interest or the judge's determination that his/her court does not have jurisdiction over the case.
0 Replies
 
Chuckster
 
  1  
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 07:36 pm
Looks bad.
All these Second-Guessers look worse.
"Standing" and "Compelling" are at work here.
The substance of the compelling part of this case has not been revealed...
YET.
But go ahead! Rant and rave.
0 Replies
 
 

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