Friday, 18 April 2014 20:08

Fallin questioned repercussions in custody dispute

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin sought to speak with advisers about repercussions with the Cherokee Nation as she considered intervening in a custody dispute involving a Cherokee girl, according to correspondence released to The Associated Press under an open records request.

Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, emailed Fallin's legal counsel on Aug. 13, saying the governor would like to meet to go over issues, including "Repercussions with Cherokees ... repercussions with national guard."

The bitter custody case centered on a 4-year-old girl named Veronica. Her birth mother was pregnant when she put the girl up for adoption, and Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, S.C., had been lined up to receive custody since 2009. But Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and his family claimed the Indian Child Welfare Act mandated that the child be raised within the Cherokee Nation, and he won custody when the girl was 2.

The case went in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in June 2013 that the federal law did not apply. Brown refused to give up custody, and he was charged in South Carolina with custodial interference. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made a request for extradition on Aug. 12, but Fallin said she wanted to wait until Brown had his day in court.

This appears, based on the documents the AP obtained, to have been a concern for Fallin and her aides, who were cognizant of how it would be perceived that one governor was not responding to another governor's request.

"Just FYI I spoke with (South Carolina's communications director) and explained our position," Weintz wrote in an email to Fallin and Denise Northrup, Fallin's chief of staff, on Aug. 14. "He said thanks, they understand. Also said they weren't doing any national media appearances on this subject and were conscious of avoiding a Gov vs. Gov storyline."

Two days later, Fallin was set to sign a compact with the Cherokee Nation. Weintz emailed Fallin to tell her that the state's largest tribe was planning to bring a camera crew and that they may ask her to make comments.

"I think its (sic) a good thing ... As much as we can show cooperation on any issue during the whole baby veronica deal," Weintz wrote, to which Fallin responded: "Sounds good."

Fallin signed the extradition order Sept. 4 for Brown to face the criminal charge. Later that month, after the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted an emergency stay that kept Veronica in Oklahoma, Brown handed her over to the Capobiancos. The extradition order was then dropped.

The emails were among more than 2,600 pages released to the AP that included correspondence between the governor and her advisers; emails and Facebook messages from constituents as well as out-of-state individuals about the case; and news articles. The records only included non-privileged documents relating to the case.

Weintz did not respond to a phone message and email on Friday about whether any documents were not released due to privilege and if so, what privilege was being cited.

 

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