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OK: Baby Veronica's biological family arrive in court this morning

August 16, 2013

Baby Veronica case: Court hearing ends, mediation agreement filed

By Staff Reports on Aug 16, 2013, at 2:57 AM  Updated on 8/16/13 at 2:07 PM
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TAHLEQUAH - The biological and adoptive parents for Baby Veronica met in a Cherokee County courthouse today for more than three hours in their continuing custody battle. Afterward, the court filed a mediation agreement, although details are unavailable.

Now, both families are in Cherokee Nation tribal court for a closed hearing.

After the day's first hearing, a court clerk said Special District Judge Holli Wells had issued a gag order, prohibiting all parties from discussing the case. Wells also issued a "verbal order" sealing all Cherokee County records in the dispute.

Neither family commented after the first hearing in the long-running custody battle for the 3-year-old girl. A state judge ordered that Veronica be at the day's first hearing, but a Cherokee official confirmed she was not there. She also was not at the day's second hearing, in tribal court.

The biological family exited the county courthouse flanked by authorities and attorneys shortly after noon.

The biological father's attorney, Clark Brewster, was asked if a gag order was in place, and he replied: "You could call it that."

The adoptive family drove away together without comment.

A second hearing, in Cherokee Nation tribal court, had been due to begin at 11 a.m. a few blocks away but started late.

Dusten Brown, the biological father, along with his wife and the child's grandparents were all ordered to be in court this morning. The family was seen entering the courthouse at about 8:40 a.m., but Veronica was not with them.

Demanding that he appear in court this morning, court documents identify the biological father as a defendant and allege that Brown "acting separately and in concert with others, has wrongfully abducted" the child. The Charleston Post and Courier, citing a spokeswoman for the adoptive family, reported this morning that Special Judge Holli Wells was expected to order Brown to surrender Veronica. But court sources had not confirmed that.

The petition for a hearing was filed by the adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who declined to talk to reporters as they arrived at the courthouse this morning with their attorneys and a camera crew in tow. The camera crew, associated with a reality TV personality who came to Oklahoma with the Capobiancos, has been documenting the events but was not allowed inside the hearing.

A spokeswoman for the Capobiancos said that the couple would not be able to make a statement after the hearing.

The Capobiancos came to Oklahoma this week seeking to return to their South Carolina home with Veronica, who lived with them for the first 27 months of her life before South Carolina court orders gave Brown custody.

In a 19-month court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered South Carolina to reconsider the case and state courts there gave custody back to the adoptive parents. Earlier this month, a judge in Charleston, S.C., demanded that Brown hand over the girl "immediately." And an arrest warrant was issued for Brown when he didn't comply.

The court document ordering Wells' hearing this morning stated that Brown and his family had "secreted this child away from plaintiffs in violation of the lawful orders of the South Carolina court."

In the Capobiancos' petition filed Thursday requesting the hearing, the family stated that they have been granted sole custody of the girl by South Carolina court order.

"Dusten Brown failed to comply with the South Carolina Court's order to deliver this child in South Carolina on August 4, 2013," states their petition, filed in Cherokee County District Court.

The petition ends by requesting that Dusten Brown and his wife, Robin Brown, along with Veronica's grandparents -- Alice and Tommy Brown -- be ordered "to produce Veronica before this court."

Another court hearing for the biological family -- before the Cherokee Nation -- is scheduled at 11 this morning, according to the tribe's attorney general, Todd Hembree.

The hearing will be to change the temporary guardianship of Veronica. The Cherokee Nation granted guardianship of the child to her grandparents and stepmother while Brown was on National Guard duty in Iowa this month. That guardianship would be changed to a "special guardianship," which is more permanent, Hembree said.

In a statement issued early today, a Capobianco family spokeswoman said that the adoptive parents had been excluded from the guardianship hearing in the Cherokee Nation tribal court.

The statement said that after 19 months of court battles, Brown had "determined yet again his intent to continue to drag this unfortunate situation out further. Because of his actions, the Capobiancos issued a special federal request in Cherokee County, where Brown has been hiding out with Veronica. Brown’s insistence on creating more roadblocks forced them to ask an Oklahoma judge to demand that Brown turn over their daughter."

Before the hearing in Wells' courtroom, sheriff's deputies and police officers milled around nervously in a third-floor hallway, discussing security arrangements. One officer was posted outside the courtroom and told not to leave, even for a bathroom break.

While the sherifff's office closed the entire courthouse to the media, citizens with business in the courthouse were allowed to enter.

One man, however, left shaking his head. "I've got a warrant for my arrest and they don't even want me here," he said.

The court clerk's office, where public records of court cases are kept, was on the third floor of the courthouse and apparently not open to the public.

As the hearing began, about 10 protesters gathered across the street from the courthouse with signs stating: "Cherokee children not for sale" and "Culture matters. Keep Veronica home."

By 9:15 a.m., about two dozen people had gathered outside the courthouse, mostly media and protesters.

Several cars drove by and honked at the protestors, who waved and cheered.

A University of Arkansas law student, Alayna Farris, spoke on behalf of the protesters.

"I'm here to show support for Dusten Brown and for Veronica. She has rights, she has a voice and it hasnt been heard," Farris said.

She said there is a long traditional of Native American children being separated from their tribes.

"Our tribal court has every authority to have jurisdiction" over the case, Farris said.

As noon approached, reporters remained outside the courthouse and a single protester remained. An attorney for Dusten Brown could be seen taking occasional smoke breaks outside the courthouse but the hearing apparently continued inside.

It is unclear whether a hearing is still going to occur in tribal court Friday or whether it had already occurred.

A Broken Arrow woman, Linda Kats, stood outside the courthouse. Kats said the case illustrates the need for reform of adoption laws.

"Unfortunately, Veronica is being treated like property; she's being tossed around like an automobile," said Kats, a licensed professional counselor.

Contributing: Ziva Branstetter, World Enterprise Editor; Michael Overall, World Staff Writer; Jarrel Wade, World Staff Writer.



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