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Birth Mother Speaks in Baby Veronica Case: Analysis

July 15, 2013
Indian Country Today - Suzette Brewer


After years of silence surrounding the failed attempt to put up her biological child for adoption, Christine Maldonado finally went public with an editorial on custodial placement in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in Friday's Washington Post. By rehashing outdated talking points, Maldonado has reanimated her position as the central figure in a case that has pitted Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, against a pre-adoptive couple in an epic crucible over race, class, tribal membership and father's rights.

Following the United States Supreme Court ruling last month, which held that a specific section of the Indian Child Welfare Act did not apply, but the rest of the Act remained intact and in force, attorneys for Dusten Brown in both Oklahoma and South Carolina moved swiftly and decisively to follow the directions and guidance of what the court did—and did not—elaborate on in their decision to remand the case back to the lower courts for further review.

Meanwhile, the Capobianco's camp, continuing a pattern of behavior prior to the Supreme Court hearing, again released court records regarding the juvenile matter to Andrew Knapp, a reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier, though requests to release the same records to Indian Country Today Media Network were denied by the South Carolina Supreme Court because the case is sealed under state law.

But since the contents of the documents are now in the public sphere, it appears that events unfolded quickly after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on June 25. On July 1, Brown and his wife, Robin, jointly filed for custody, adoption and guardianship in Nowata County, Oklahoma. The following day, his parents, Tommy and Alice Brown also filed a motion with the District Court of the Cherokee Nation as a certified adoptive placement preference of their granddaughter, in the event that Brown's parental rights are terminated.

Under the law, however, the Indian Child Welfare Act is still applicable in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and must be followed regarding adoptive placement preference with either family members or fellow tribal members in the event a parent is found unfit or their rights are terminated, according to Indian law experts.

Beating the Capobiancos to the punch, on Wednesday, July 3, Brown's attorneys in South Carolina also filed a motion to remand the case back down to the family court in Charleston for a fulsome review and evaluation of all parties and current conditions. They argue that Veronica has been with her “fit and loving” biological father and her stepmother as part of an intact family for the last 18 months, therefore necessitating an updated determination of the “best interest” doctrine commonly used throughout the United States.

Also at issue is whether or not South Carolina should retain jurisdiction at this juncture in the case, considering that Veronica, her biological father and stepmother, her grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, healthcare providers, et al, are domiciled in Oklahoma. The Capobiancos are the only parties in the case who live in South Carolina. Therefore, experts say it beggars belief that a South Carolina Court could even make a best interest custodial placement there, since the entire family and all the relevant experts reside in another jurisdiction, which would exact an enormous logistical and financial burden on all of the parties.

Bringing up the rear, the Capobiancos closed out the first week of July by filing a motion for immediate judgment with the South Carolina Supreme Court on Friday, July 5, which means in plain English that Dusten Brown's rights would be immediately terminated, and Veronica would be transferred back to the pre-adoptive couple. In anticipation of such a ruling, the Capobiancos have offered a “transition plan” to the court in which they would move to Oklahoma to assist with Veronica's transition back to South Carolina.

Legal experts, however, say that because the case has likely reverted back to a “best interest analysis,” it would be highly unusual that the court would strip Brown's custody without a comprehensive and thorough review of all the evidence accrued since Veronica left South Carolina in December 2011.

Which brings the subject back to Maldonado's editorial in Friday's Washington Post. In her prose, she returned yet again to the infamous “text message” in which she claimed Dusten Brown “renounced” his parental rights, disregarding not only the fact that parental rights cannot be terminated via text message (even though Brown has repeatedly asserted that was never his intent), but also that that specific text message was ruled inadmissible.

Judge Deborah Malphrus refused to admit it into evidence unless the phone and the entire conversation was produced. Subsequently, the phone, which had been locked away in a safe, mysteriously went “missing” the next day at court. And along with it, the full transcript of what actually transpired between Maldonado and Brown.

Therefore, say family law experts, the “text message” that was used against Brown is without context and is therefore irrelevant to the current situation on the ground and further court proceedings that are no doubt getting ready to happen—whether they occur in South Carolina or are ceded to Oklahoma.

Additionally, it ignores the South Carolina's Supreme Court's written finding that both she and the Capobiancos twisted the facts and the strained the limits of truth to fit their legal strategy in attempting to terminate Dusten Brown's parental rights to push the adoption through without his approval or consent. Finally, it is a miraculous recovery of her memory of events that she could not seem to recall, based on her own previous court-recorded testimony.

“The optics of this case are very clear,” says one legal scholar who asked not to be identified because the case is ongoing. “This is a mother who very early on decided that she did not want this child. So it strains the imagination that this entitles her to abrogate the father's parental rights to his daughter simply because of her personal issues with him. At some point, this case has to be about what's in Veronica's best interest, and unfortunately, it's become about winning.”




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