The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

August 26, 2013

Lawyer: Adoptive parents can’t see Cherokee girl

OKLAHOMA CITY — A lawyer appointed to look out for the best interests of a 3-year-old Cherokee girl at the center of an adoption dispute has asked a judge to suspend visitation rights for her adoptive parents, according to a court docket.

Angel Smith filed a motion in Cherokee County District Court in Oklahoma on Friday asking Judge Holli Wells to suspend Matt and Melanie Capobianco’s rights to see 3-year-old Veronica pending a hearing, the Tulsa World reported.

The Capobiancos responded by filing a motion objecting to the stay. The Capobiancos also objected to a motion to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Veronica, according to the Tulsa World.

Wells has recused herself. A gag order remains in effect and court records have been sealed, so the only information available was from an online court docket. That docket initially had the motions listed Monday morning, but disappeared by midmorning once Wells was recused.

Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, began fighting the Capobiancos when he discovered that Veronica’s biological mother intended to put her up for adoption. The Capobiancos raised the girl until she was 2. The girl’s mother is not Native American.

Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Cherokee Nation has a vested interest in the child and, if invoked at the right time, the law allows the tribe to take over the adoption proceedings.

But the U.S. Supreme Court said in June that provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act didn’t apply, and a South Carolina court awarded the couple custody on July 31.

In a separate ruling, a Cherokee Nation court awarded custody to Brown and his family. Veronica was last known to be with the Brown family, but her exact whereabouts are unknown because of the gag order.

The Capobiancos traveled from their home in South Carolina to Oklahoma two weeks ago in hopes of seeing Veronica and taking her back. They had not seen her for 19 months.

Brown and the Capobiancos attended court hearings in Cherokee County District Court and Cherokee Nation tribal court more than a week ago, at which point a mediation agreement was filed. Details of that agreement were sealed.

A spokeswoman for the Capobiancos did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment Monday. A representative for Smith said she had no comment.

A Cherokee Nation spokeswoman, Amanda Clinton, said she could not comment on the motions because of the gag order.

The Cherokee Nation is holding a peaceful rally on Monday at 5:30 p.m. near the tribal complex to show support for the Brown family.

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