The father of the “Baby Girl” at the heart of last year’s famous Supreme Court case has turned her over to the couple who adopted her and had custody of her for the first two years of her life.
Baby Veronica, the Cherokee child caught in a custody battle that has garnered national attention, has been handed over to her adoptive parents.
The custody exchange was made around 7:30 Monday night at the Cherokee Marshal’s building, just steps from the home that has recently housed Dusten Brown, Veronica’s biological father, and his wife, according to Cherokee County undersheriff Jason Chennault.
The Browns watched from the house’s front window as a deputy and marshal led the 4-year-old girl to the nearby building, having said goodbye from behind closed doors . . . .
The Cherokee Nation, however, sees more legal challenges on the horizon.
The Cherokee Nation was prepared to require that the court order giving custody to the child’s adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, be domesticated in tribal court, [Cherokee Attorney General Todd] Hembree said. But Dusten Brown, the girl’s biological father, decided that it was in Veronica’s best interests to proceed with a “peaceful and respectful transfer . . . .”
“We will assess our legal options in the morning,” Hembree said. “Is this over? I would say not.”
“Domestication” of a judgment means that one jurisdiction — here, the Cherokee Nation — recognizes and gives effect to the order of a court in another jurisdiction. Hembree is saying that the Cherokee Nation had jurisdiction over the child, and so legally the Nation, not Oklahoma, ought to have been the jurisdiction to “domesticate” — i.e., enforce (or deny) — any custody order.
The Nation probably did have jurisdiction — the child was eligible for tribal enrollment and was on Cherokee Nation lands — so Hembree has a valid point. But even if a Cherokee court had refused to enforce the South Carolina order, Dusten Brown would have faced serious sanctions — contempt of the South Carolina courts, at a minimum, and perhaps another warrant for felony custodial interference. Moreover, given that Veronica was probably going back to the Capobiancos sooner or later, Brown may have been afraid that dragging the fight out would only undermine his chances of getting visitation or other accommodations later.
That said, Hembree and the Cherokee Nation may want to pursue legal action simply to emphasize that tribal governments are not to be bypassed in Indian child custody cases. After all, the whole “Baby Girl” debacle came about precisely because the child’s birth mother and the adoptive couple failed to properly inform the Cherokee Nation of the father’s identity. Whether this was simply negligence or a deliberate attempt to obfuscate matters little — the attitude seems to have been that the notifying the Nation was at most a courtesy, not a serious matter of jurisdiction over the child of one of the tribe’s members, enforceable under federal law.
If this seems like an aberrant case, with facts unlikely to recur, consider that there has already been another case of an Indian child from an Oklahoma tribe being swept away to South Carolina over the objections of the father. In that case, the “Baby Desaray” case, the situation is slightly different, because it was the biological mother, not the father, who was a tribal member. The tribe, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, has now been awarded custody of the child and will presumably be placing her as it sees fit.
But here again, there has been some dispute over whether the tribe was adequately informed of the adoption in a timely way: the adoptive couple’s lawyer is claiming that “the Absentee Shawnee Tribe was aware of the plan for adoption prior to the birth and . . . the tribe did not voice any objections,” according to the AP. For its part, the tribe is making accusations that certain lawyers are, essentially, trafficking in Indian children to meet the demand for adoptions:
[Attorney for the Absentee Shawnee Tribe] Charles Tripp said he believes the South Carolina-based adoption lawyer, Ray Godwin, who helped set up adoption cases involving both Veronica and Desaray, and other adoption lawyers should be investigated by the Department of Justice.
“Part of the reason for an investigation is the fact that I think we’ve got women, primarily, who are in bad situations finically [sic], maybe emotionally, maybe societal issues — whether that’s drug and alcohol issues or criminal issues — who are being selected, preyed upon, by these agencies,” he said. “I think they prey upon people in dire straits.”
This is a theory I’ve heard before. Two is not a pattern, necessarily, but it’s certainly odd that the same lawyer is involved in two adoptions that were later contested by the tribes. Time will tell, I suppose.
I don’t know. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.