UPDATED: BABY VERONICA: Brown, Capobiancos in negotiations for Veronica

09/23/2013 10:29 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizens Dusten Brown and his daughter Veronica sit on Veronica’s bed at their home in Nowata, Okla. Brown is fighting to keep custody of his 4-year-old daughter, who was adopted by a non-Native couple from South Carolina. COURTESY PHOTO
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizens Dusten Brown and his daughter Veronica share a hug in this July 18 photo. Brown is fighting to keep custody of his 4-year-old daughter, who was adopted by a non-Native couple from South Carolina. COURTESY PHOTO
TULSA, Okla. – According to reports from the Tulsa World, negotiations between Baby Veronica’s biological father and the South Carolina couple attempting to adopt her ended on Sept. 23 in a Tulsa courthouse without an agreement.

The newspaper reported that the parties met five times the prior week. Starting on Sept. 16, Dusten Brown – Veronica’s father and a Cherokee Nation citizen – and Matt and Melanie Capobianco were involved in formal negotiations.

The Tulsa Word reported that the case heads back to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, where the question is whether the 4-year-old girl will stay with Brown while the appeals process continues.

“All the parties negotiated in good faith in my opinion and have been represented by lawyers of competence, skill and diligence,” a settlement judge told the Tulsa World. “It is a procedurally and substantively complex case, which we simply were unable to resolve by a settlement agreement. As a consequence, the settlement conference was adjourned this morning, and the parties and their attorneys instructed that all gag orders remain operative and in effect.”

According to an online docket, the Capobianco have filed three other statements with the Supreme Court in support of lifting a stay that keeps Veronica with Brown.

It was not clear when the court would make a decision, the Tulsa World reported.

According to the newspaper, before proceeding with the appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court required the mediation conference at the Court of Civil Appeals in Tulsa, where the families spent five days in negotiations and returned to on Sept. 23 for less than an hour.

The public was not allowed on the sixth floor, where the negotiations took place.

In the past, the Capobiancos have said they wanted Brown and his Cherokee family to be “a part of Veronica’s life,” but they have not publicly offered a specific compromise.

Earlier this year, the Brown family revealed a proposal to send Veronica to South Carolina every summer, but keep her in Oklahoma for the school year.

According to the Tulsa World, it wasn’t known what kinds of deals were discussed during mediation.

After arranging a private adoption with Brown’s ex-fiancée, the Capobiancos lost custody of Veronica after courts in South Carolina ruled that Brown had not given “voluntary consent” to the adoption.

The Capobiancos appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided 5-4 that the lower courts had misinterpreted the Indian Child Welfare Act when giving Brown custody.

While the Supreme Court’s decision struck down part of his case, Brown’s attorneys have argued that he can still challenge the adoption under the ICWA.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision forced the South Carolina courts to reconsider custody, eventually giving Veronica back to the Capobiancos, which forced Oklahoma Rep. Sean Roberts to get involved.

“Federal law was clearly ignored in this case,” Roberts, a Republican whose district stretches from parts of Tulsa and Owasso to Pawhuska, said.

Even under the Supreme Court ruling, as noted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion, Veronica’s paternal grandparents should still have rights under ICWA to seek an adoption themselves, Roberts said.

“This may be the best choice of action at this point to keep the child with her Oklahoma family,” he said.

A settlement would presumably make that a moot point. But Roberts vowed to work toward reforming state laws to protect the rights of birth parents and enforce the ICWA in the future.

“I rarely get involved in pending court cases and never publicly,” Roberts said, adding that he has an adopted brother and sister. “But after reviewing the facts of the case, it is clear that Veronica Brown should be solely placed with her father.”

Biological parents, if they can’t provide for their children, love them “unselfishly” by placing them for adoption, Roberts said.

“But here, this is not the case,” he said, “as Dusten Brown did not give up his rights in accordance with the law and has proven his ability to raise his child.”

Brown has said he was tricked into signing away his parental rights when he thought he was only agreeing to give custody to the birth mother.


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