Friday, December 18, 2009

Hold judges, public officials accountable for custody fraud (San Antonio, Texas)

Solid and thoughtful editorial by Vernonica Flores-Paniagua on the dad JEAN PHILLIPE LACOMBE and his fraudulent custody bid/abduction of his 10-year-old son. All the court and law enforcement officials are trying to pass the buck, and that has go to stop.

This case is reminscent of two other cases involving dads and custody fraud, both of which were reported here at Dastardly:

For articles on CARLTON FENTON, see these links:

For articles on TIMOTHY FRAZIER, see these links:

Web Posted: 12/18/2009 12:00 CST

Warning signs missed at every step in custody case

Veronica Flores-Paniagua

In the case of Jean Paul Lacombe, the 10-year-old at the center of an international custody dispute, where should the buck stop?

To hear District Judge Sol Casseb explain it, he followed the law when he authorized the removal of the boy from his mother's custody. Same with Precinct 3 Constable Mark Vojvodich, whose deputies took Jean Paul from a school bus on Oct. 16 and gave him to his father. The father's lawyers, who initiated the emergency petition that led to the school bus takedown? They've been cleared of claims of fraud brought by the mother's attorney.

The choir's tune: It's no one's fault that Jean Paul's father, Jean Philippe Lacombe, pulled a big one over our local judicial system.

This choir is way off-key.

Jean Paul's story hit national airwaves this week with heartbreaking video clips. One, from a North East Independent School District school bus camera, shows the grade-schooler pleading with deputy constables to not take him to his father, as they had, by court order, the authority to do. “He hits me,” Jean Paul cried. Another, shot by KSAT-TV, shows Jean Paul's mother, Berenice Diaz, doing her best to comfort her son before the constables finally take him away.

Jean Paul's whereabouts are unknown.

Jean Philippe Lacombe now stands accused of perjury, kidnapping and a charge of interference with child custody. Authorities say he presented incomplete and misleading Mexican court documents to Casseb on Oct. 15 indicating that he had lawful custody of his son.

There are two gaps in this assertion. First: It overlooks the role of Lacombe's attorneys, who had the opportunity to vet the documents before presenting them to Casseb. The lawyers, James Monnig and John Mead, have, themselves, lawyered up. Their attorney, H.E. Mendez, told Express-News reporter Craig Kapitan that the documents appeared to be genuine, adding, “How far do you have to go to establish that?”

Very far — more so when the fate of a young child is in question.

Second: It absolves Casseb of his bad call.

Judges, seeing an uptick in family law cases originating in Mexico, are using more translators for court proceedings, and they're more frequently encountering cases that rely on Mexican documents. The Hague Convention gives some legal framework, but as one court insider told me, judges know that with foreign documents, there's always the potential for fraud.

Insiders also tell me the writ of attachment Casseb ordered without a hearing with both parents present — the judge's emergency order that gave the deputies grounds to pick up Jean Paul — should be used sparingly in child custody disputes. The consequence of not giving the other parent time to appeal their side of the story is too grave, they said.

In other words, the flags were redder than Santa's suit, and Casseb missed them.

Finally, there are the deputies who approached a terrified little boy in a school bus that Friday afternoon in October. They were following the letter of the law by carrying out the court order, just as they've surely done in countless contentious custody cases. But Jean Paul's pleas that Lacombe “hits me a lot of times” should have given them pause. The officers could — at the very least — have called Child Protective Services' reporting line that's set up for law enforcement agencies to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

The buck has to stop somewhere.

There were roads not taken, even though it was clear what the consequences could be. Now the outcry is piercing, but none louder than Jean Paul's cries on that school bus: “Someone help me. Please, someone help me.”