Lawmaker battles for custody of maid's child

Debra Law
Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 08:17 pm
Re: crazy
What are you talking about, Chuckster? What do you mean by Second-Guessers?

When edgarblythe first posted the story, I wrote the following on August 19th:

Debra_Law wrote:
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.

Sure enough, the Heflins didn't have standing--not even in Texas--On August 23, the Court dismissed the Heflin's petition for custody of their maid's child for lack of standing.

If they didn't have standing on August 23rd--they didn't have standing to obtain an ex parte emergency custody order--they didn't have standing to obtain temporary custody of the child--there was absolutely no reason to put these people through a four day hearing on temporary custody. And, by GOSH, if the Heflins had a prima facie case to prove that the parents were unfit and that an emergency existed wherein the child was in danger if he remained in the custody of his parents--that information would have been included in the many articles that we read on this subject. The Heflins had NO COMPELLING evidence to use against the parents.

There is no second-guessing involved. The facts speak for themselves.
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Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 08:37 pm
Chuckster apparently feels there was standing and that it's hidden from us. Er, how do you know that, chuck? When are you or somebody going to inform us?
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Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 08:53 pm
Keep your shirt on Counselor. ( Your darling when your upset. Deb.)
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Reply Mon 23 Aug, 2004 09:16 pm
I always want the bottom line.
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Reply Wed 25 Aug, 2004 07:16 pm
Custody rulings in question
Parents ask why Heflin temporarily got their son
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Although thrilled to have their son back, the parents who fought off state Rep. Talmadge Heflin's effort to take custody of the boy want to know why two judges allowed the lawmaker to take him in the first place.

"Right now, we are just so happy that they are back together," lawyer Jolanda Jones said Tuesday, one day after 20-month-old Fidel Odimara Jr. was reunited with his parents. "But at the same time, there were a bunch of sneaky things that happened."

The couple, Jones said, are considering their legal options "and may file something in relation to the judges who approved that order." She did not elaborate.

Heflin, a Houston Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and his wife, Janice, sought permanent custody of Fidel from Mariam Katamba, his mother, who had lived with them for more than a year.

Katamba said she had been the Heflins' maid before they attempted to take her son. The Heflins said she was a house guest who, along with the boy's father, was an unfit parent.

The Heflins, who said they were worried about the child, sought an emergency order July 27 granting them temporary custody. Family District Judge Linda Motheral, who was presiding over the custody case, was out of town. Her associate judge, David D. Farr, reviewed the Heflins' filings, including allegations of abuse.

Katamba, who is from Uganda, and Fidel Odimara Sr., who is from Nigeria, denied those allegations.

Farr approved the Heflins' motion, and Family District Judge Frank Rynd signed an order. Farr could not sign it because he is an associate judge appointed by Motheral to assist her.

Harris County deputy constables took Fidel Jr. from Katamba the next day and gave him to the Heflins, who had custody of him until Motheral dismissed their case Monday.

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Debra Law
Reply Wed 25 Aug, 2004 10:45 pm
Wonder why?
Parents ask why Heflin temporarily got their son?

Judges have only a short time to consider emergency petitions and often rule on the side of caution in these matters to protect the child from potential harm. Indeed, if the child was truly in danger and an emergency order was denied and the child ended up severely injured or dead -- the Heflins would be screaming: Why didn't the judge grant the emergency petition?

When an ex parte request for an emergency order is presented to a judge, only the petitioning party is present. Of course, the Due Process Clause (of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution) requires at a minimum that the responding party be given notice and an opportunity to respond.

To satisfy the Due Process Clause, state laws or court rules require that the responding party [the parents in this case] be served a copy of the emergency order [granting the Heflins emergency custody] along with a copy of all the petitioners' documents and a notice of hearing. The hearing on the emergency petition must be held as soon as possible -- usually within fourteen days.

In this case, the parents were served on July 28 and the baby was taken from them at the same time. The presiding judge was out of town and I assume the matter was placed on her calendar to be heard as soon as possible after her return in order to comply with state procedural rules.

However, the parents obtained legal representation. I don't know exactly how soon they were able to obtain a lawyer after they were served -- but the failure to resolve this matter sooner can be blamed partly on the parents' attorney.

The parents' attorney should have immediately motioned the court to quash the emergency order and dismiss the Heflins' petition for custody of the child based on lack of standing. The attorney didn't do that.

(I'm trying to set aside my extreme disappointment in the parents' attorney and figure out objectively why the attorney dropped the ball. Maybe, because the parents were immigrants from Nigeria, there were communication barriers that prevented the attorney from acquiring all the facts necessary to identify the standing issue?)

Nevertheless, the scheduled hearing took place without the parents' attorney raising the standing issue.

If you remember, the Judge ultimately dismissed the case on August 23 on the court's own motion (sua sponte) for lack of standing. It would not have been necessary for the court to dismiss the case on the court's OWN MOTION if the parents' attorney had otherwise motioned the court to do so.

SURE, I believe the standing issue should have been identified immediately and the associate judge should have denied the emergency petition for custody on that basis. The associate judge who initially approved the emergency petition probably, but erroneously, relied on the credibilty of the petitioners.

Sure, the parents have a right to be angry about the initial injustice. However, "the American way" worked for them in this matter to bring them justice in a relatively short amount of time. The lawmaker's status in the community probably gave his emergency petition credibility, but it was also the lawmaker's public status that caused the light to be shined upon the oppressive use of his status.

I think the parents' attorney, Jolanda Jones, ought to tread very carefully before she accuses the judges of misconduct for approving the emergency petition. Jones will lose her good grace with the judges (not a good move if she wants to continue practicing in front of them) -- after all, Attorney Jones dropped the ball too and it was the presiding judge who dismissed the case sua sponte.

When an issue is resolved in your favor, sometimes it's best to quit rocking the boat.
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