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OK: Negotiations have begun between Baby Veronica's biological father and adoptive parents, attorney says

August 15, 2013

By MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer on Aug 14, 2013, at 8:42 AM  Updated on 8/14/13 at 10:56 PM

Negotiations between Baby Veronica's biological father and her adoptive parents have begun, defense attorney Clark Brewster confirmed Wednesday evening.

Brewster said he had a "lengthy conversation" earlier Wednesday with an attorney for Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who have been locked in a custody dispute with his client, Dusten Brown of Nowata, for nearly four years.

He was waiting to hear back from the Capobianco camp, Brewster said. But he suggested that the discussion could eventually move from phone conversations between attorneys to a face-to-face meeting between the two families.

"The real issue," he said, "is Veronica and her best interests."

Earlier in the day, Brewster had suggested that a possible compromise could involve agreeing to have a "best interest" hearing here in Oklahoma to decide on the terms of custody.

The Capobiancos want to take 3-year-old Veronica back to South Carolina, where they raised her for the first two years of her life.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin warned Wednesday morning that if Brown didn't negotiate with the Capobiancos, she would speed up the extradition process and send him to South Carolina to face a charge of "custodial interference."

But Brown had already made at least one offer to compromise in recent weeks, and "he has always had a desire to reach out and do what is best for Veronica," Brewster said.

Brown has committed no crime and will not let the criminal case filed against him in South Carolina affect any decisions about the custody of his daughter, Brewster said.

The Capobiancos said during a news conference in downtown Tulsa on Wednesday morning that Brown turned down their request to visit Veronica after they arrived in Oklahoma late Tuesday.

“Mr. and Mrs. Capobianco deserve an opportunity to meet with their adopted daughter," Fallin said later in the day. "They also deserve the chance to meet with Mr. Brown and put an end to this conflict."

On Tuesday, the governor had said she would delay a decision on extraditing Brown to South Carolina. He faces a complaint of "custodial interference," which carries up to five years in prison. He was arrested and posted bond Monday. The next day Fallin said she would allow Brown time to challenge the extradition in court on Sept. 12.

Baby Veronica's adoptive parents talk with the media from Tulsa World on Vimeo.

After the morning press conference -- in which the Capobiancos said they've never been allowed to visit their daughter and were told it wasn't in Veronica's best interests for a visit now -- the governor issued a statement:

"It is important for Veronica’s sake that Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family resolve this matter quickly and grant closure to all parties. If Mr. Brown is unwilling to cooperate with these reasonable expectations, then I will be forced to expedite his extradition request and let the issue be settled in court.”

Brown's defense attorney, Clark Brewster, told the Tulsa World that the governor shouldn't mix the criminal case with the civil dispute over custody.

"They're two completely separate legal issues," Brewster said. "One involves a criminal allegation and one involves what is in the best interests of Veronica."

Brewster said he would be in contact with the governor's office.

South Carolina granted custody back to the Capobiancos this summer based on testimony given more than two years ago, Brewster said.

"There needs to be present-day determination of that," he said. "What is in her best interests now? That would be the overture best made by both sides."

In an emailed statement, Brewster said an attempt would be made to quickly break the impasse between the families.

"We will reach out to counsel for the Capobiancos to see if a resolution in Veronica’s best interest can be reached by the parties," Brewster said in the statement.

During the press conference this morning, the Capobianco family said they sought a quick resolution and didn't want a confrontation in an attempt to retrieve Veronica during their visit.

“We are determined to bring our daughter home, but please know that we don’t seek victory," Melanie Capobianco said. "There is none in this type of situation. What we seek is peace for our daughter. For everyone involved, we need closure.”

But, the Capobiancos said, the legal fight wouldn't end if a compromise couldn't be reached.

“If it takes another week, another month another decade, we’re not going anywhere,” Matt Capobianco said. He said prolonging the process is not in Veronica's best interests.

The morning press conference at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tulsa preceded an afternoon court hearing in Charleston, S.C. The hearing is another step in the nearly four-year battle for custody of the girl whose biological father will challenge a judge's demand that they reveal Veronica's location.

At the two-hour hearing, a Charleston County family court judge reiterated that he wanted Veronica returned to the Capobiancos “forthwith,” the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

According to the paper, Dusten Brown’s attorney asked for some modifications to Family Court Judge Daniel Martin’s order, which he agreed to take under advisement. Neither side would discuss what those modifications were. However, Martin made it clear that he wants the transfer to take place quickly.

Brown’s attorney in South Carolina, John Nichols, would not say whether the judge required their legal team to reveal Veronica’s whereabouts. Nichols also would not discuss where Veronica is, the Post and Courier reported.

Authorities in Oklahoma have so far refused to help the Capobiancos retrieve Veronica. The sheriff in Nowata County, which is the home of Veronica’s birth father about an hour north of Tulsa, has said he didn’t agree with the South Carolina courts’ action against Brown or their demand that he immediately hand over Veronica. Sheriff James Hallett also said that without a warrant, he would arrest Matt Capobianco if he were to take Veronica.

The Capobiancos vowed earlier this week to come find their daughter themselves if law enforcement didn't take physical custody away from her Cherokee family. Cherokee officials and Brown have not revealed Veronica’s location.

The Capobiancos said they didn’t seek a confrontation during this trip in a quest to retrieve Veronica.

"We’re certainly not looking to do anything to upset anyone, certainly not public officials or law enforcement," Matt Capobianco said. "Obviously, we don’t want to scare our daughter in some kind of confrontation. That’s not in her best interests."

The 35-minute press conference included a family spokeswoman and Troy Dunn, a television personality who specializes in locating and reuniting birth families and adopted children.

The family said they would meet a senator – they didn’t name whom – and Veronica’s birth mother, Christy Maldonado, later today. They left the press conference with a television crew in the back of a black SUV.

During the press conference, a family spokeswoman said that the courts had ruled on the issue, and it was time for Brown to give up custody of Veronica. A South Carolina court has ordered that she be returned to her adoptive parents. But the custody order hasn't been confirmed in an Oklahoma court, as state law dictates.

Raw video of protest after Capobianco press conference from Tulsa World on Vimeo.

“The Capobiancos have requested the Cherokee Nation and Dusten Brown to follow the South Carolina court's order, but they forget that Dusten Brown has the same rights to have his arguments heard before our Oklahoma courts and Cherokee Nation Tribal Court," Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement issued after the press conference. "We respectfully ask the Capobiancos to allow that due process."

All who spoke at the press conference had a common theme: A quick resolution would be best for Veronica and compromise could be the best way to do it. The Capobiancos said they would allow visitation for Brown and his family.

Dunn challenged Brown to meet with him personally, with no lawyers, no tribal representatives, no friends. Dunn said it was time to “hit the pause button” in the legal battle until the child’s situation is settled.

Melanie Capobianco said “she never imagined four years ago anything like this could have ever happened.”


September 2009: Baby Veronica born in Oklahoma, taken to South Carolina for adoption.

January 2010: Father, Dusten Brown, signs away custody but files an appeal a few days later.

December 2011: Baby Veronica returns to Oklahoma after a family court in South Carolina grants custody to the father.

July 2012: South Carolina Supreme Court upholds the custody decision.

January: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear an appeal from the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

April: U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case.

June 25: U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal law doesn't require that Veronica be given to her biological father. The court did not clear her adoptive parents to immediately regain custody.

July 9: Cherokee Nation District Court officials confirm that Dusten Brown's mother and father, Tommy and Alice Brown, have filed for adoption of Veronica - in line with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissenting opinion.

July 17: Cherokee Nation courts name three of Dusten Brown's family members as joint guardians, giving them the power to make legal and medical decisions for Veronica and complicating the issue for South Carolina courts. Later that day, the South Carolina Supreme Court terminates Brown's parental rights and gives full custody to the adoptive parents.

July 24: Christy Maldonado, Veronica's birth mother, files a lawsuit with several other women who have placed children for adoption, seeking to have part of the Indian Child Welfare Act declared unconstitutional.

July 26: Dusten Brown files a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and require South Carolina courts to hold a best-interest hearing for Veronica.

July 31: Prior to a hearing on transition details for Veronica, a Cherokee Nation attorney appointed for Veronica files a federal lawsuit in South Carolina seeking to temporarily stop the hearing and hold a best-interest hearing. It is denied.

Aug. 2: The U.S. Supreme Court denies Brown's July 26 petition. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenters.

Aug. 5: A South Carolina judge orders Brown to surrender custody "immediately" after he didn't bring Veronica to a court-ordered visitation with the adoptive parents in South Carolina.

Aug. 9: South Carolina officials issue an arrest warrant for Brown. He is expected to be taken into custody in Iowa, where he is training with the Oklahoma National Guard.

Aug. 10: National Guard officials grant Brown requested leave from training after he is subpoenaed to appear in Cherokee Nation tribal court for an emergency hearing in Tahlequah.

Aug. 12: Brown does not appear at the emergency hearing. He turns himself in to authorities in Sequoyah County and is released after posting $10,000 bond. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs a warrant for Brown’s extradition and sends it to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval.

Aug. 13: Fallin declines to sign off on the warrant, saying Brown has a right to contest extradition in court. She says she will not act upon the warrant until after Brown’s next extradition hearing on Sept. 12. Capobiancos arrive in Tulsa that night.

Aug. 14: Capobiancos hold news conference in downtown Tulsa saying they had been denied a chance to see Veronica and meet with Brown. Fallin says she will speed up Brown’s extradition to South Carolina if he does not allow the Capobiancos to see Veronica. A South Carolina family court judge reiterates that he wanted Veronica returned to the Capobiancos “forthwith.”

Upcoming court action

Aug. 23: Deadline for Brown to contest South Carolina's custody order in Oklahoma court.

Sept. 4: A Cherokee tribal court will consider extending a temporary guardianship for Veronica's stepmother and grandparents, potentially claiming jurisdiction over the case.

Sept. 12: Brown to return to Sequoyah County Court for a hearing on his extradition.



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