Great news! Jeff Chafin won his case before the United States Supreme Court. He won unanimously; every single justice voted for him.
Remember Jeff Chafin? For a refresher on his case, go to my first post on him here (Fathers and Families, 11/3/11). Here’s the Supreme Court’s opinion.
Briefly, Chafin is a man of impeccable credentials. He’s a Sergeant First Class in the U. S. Army, stationed at Redstone Armory in Alabama. His wife Lynne is a Scot and they have a daughter who’s six now. The family moved to Alabama where Jeff was stationed, but life was not good. Lynne is a violent drunk. She attacked Jeff on numerous occasions, including once with a knife, and she was arrested many times on charges related to domestic violence and alcohol abuse. She attacked Jeff twice in the presence of their daughter Eris. She was well known to the police and eventually, her abusive behavior got the attention of immigration authorities. They noticed that she’d overstayed her 90-day visa by about a year and deported her to her native country.
She immediately filed a proceeding under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction claiming incredibly that Jeff had wrongly “retained” Eris in the United States. And, just as incredibly, Federal Judge Inge Johnson agreed. For the full anti-father meaning of that ruling, by all means read my previous post on Chafin’s case. Johnson’s ruling was so utterly at odds with the plain meaning of the Hague Convention, so completely unsupported by the evidence and so plainly contrary to the best interests of Eris that only anti-father bias explains it.
Federal Judge Inge Johnson Turned Child Over to Violent, Alcoholic MotherLynne’s entire case hinged on her assertion that, under the Convention, Scotland, not the U.S. was Eris’s settled place of residence. That was a tough claim to prove given that the little girl had, at the time of trial, spent about two-thirds of her life outside of Scotland, most of it in Alabama. So Lynne claimed they’d never intended to stay long in the U.S. The problem with that was that 100% of the evidence contradicted the claim. The very first question Jeff’s attorney asked Lynne at trial was “do you have any evidence to support what you’re saying?” Her answer was “no.”
Face it, when your sole witness admits she has no evidence to support her one key factual allegation, the one on which her entire case hangs, and you still win, you know the judge had decided the case long before trial.
So Jeff appealed and something almost as astonishing happened before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Judges there declared the case moot and therefore not subject to appeal. Now, I won’t go into the dry details of mootness law, but suffice it to say that the courts of this country only have jurisdiction over live “cases and controversies.” So, if a case were once a real case or controversy, but had ceased to be prior to being filed, the court can’t hear it. Constitutionally, it had no jurisdiction.
(One of Roe v. Wade’s less well known precedents is its ruling on the mootness issue. Prior to Roe, a pregnant woman who wanted to challenge some legal aspect of her pregnancy invariably failed because, by the time she got to court, the baby had been born and there was therefore no active case or controversy to adjudicate. Roe dealt with that by saying that, since the condition of pregnancy was capable of recurring, the case wasn’t moot.)
In Chafin’s case, no sensible person believes his case was moot. The appellate court said it was because Lynne had taken Eris to Scotland, i.e. beyond the jurisdiction of the Alabama federal court. Therefore, according to the court, even if they ruled for Jeff, the ruling would be meaningless because no U.S. court has jurisdiction over Eris as long as she’s in Scotland. But the Supreme Court put that notion to rest very quickly saying that Jeff had many adjudicable rights that were very much alive and kicking. For example, if the trial court’s ruling is reversed, it may be that the courts of Scotland will honor it and return Eris here. It may be that some day Lynne will return to the U.S. and thereby subject herself to the jurisdiction of our courts. In short, there are many scenarios under which a reversal by the Eleventh Circuit may redound to Jeff’s benefit.
So the Supreme Court voted unanimously to overrule the Eleventh Circuit and return Jeff’s case to it for a hearing on Judge Johnson’s ruling.
Will Jeff win his appeal? He should. Whatever the outcome, we’ll know soon enough. If he does, his case will likely return to Judge Johnson for retrial, a prospect that doesn’t bode well for his possibility of success. Again, we’ll see.
In the mean time, Jeff hasn’t been able to see his daughter. After all, it’s hard to do that when you’re stationed in Alabama and your child is thousands of miles away. The legal process is excruciatingly slow, and little girls don’t grow up any slower to accommodate the courts. By the time Jeff wins his appeal, if he does, there’ll be little to prevent Judge Johnson from declaring that the fait accompli carries the day. That is, Eris has already spent so much time in Scotland, thanks to Johnson’s clearly erroneous ruling, that her best interests require her to remain there. And presto! another father’s rights will be decided, not by the law and not according to what’s good for his child, but by pro-mother judicial bias.