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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

December 15th, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Solomon Metalwala’s son Sky still hasn’t been found, although this story says police may have a lead (News.Gather.com, 12/13/11).

It seems a man in an Ikea store in Renton, Washington spotted a couple with a small boy in a stroller.  He thought the adults might be Russian or Ukrainian and that the child might be Sky.  He alerted police who are now studying the security video to see if they can identify the two adults who were in the store that day.

That seems like a long shot, but you never know.  I’ve believed all along that Sky’s mother, Julia Biryukova, stashed the boy with friends or relatives.  The most telling thing about her behavior to date is that she’s made no effort to find the boy.  While Solomon has been doing everything he can to locate Sky, Biryukova has done nothing whatsoever, including talking to police.  Is that the way a normal parent would behave when his/her child has been kidnapped by strangers as Biryukova claims?  Hardly.

So Biryukova clearly knows what happened to the two-year-old.

Meanwhile, Solomon Metalwala has gotten custody of his daughter Maile, 4.  Despite the fact that he’s clearly a fit and loving parent, it took him almost six weeks to wrest control of the girl from the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services.  She was in foster care all that time, which must have been traumatic for her given that her little brother had just vanished from her life.

Why wasn’t she turned over immediately to her father when Sky disappeared and Maile was taken from her mother?  One reason seems to be that that’s just the way the child welfare agency operates.  They seem to place children in foster care regardless of everything while they investigate the fitness of the parent to whom custody should be given.  That presumption of unfitness on the part of the parent, along with the parallel presumption of fitness on the part of the foster parent looks like a funny way to protect children, but there it is.

The more important factor in keeping Maile from her father was likely that there was an existing restraining order, issued in March by Commissioner Jacqueline Jeske at the request of Biryukova, keeping Solomon out of his children’s lives.

So when the juvenile court decided recently that Solomon should have custody of Maile, it did so with one reservation – that Jeske’s order be lifted.  Obviously, one court can’t order a parent to have custody when that parent is prohibited from even being near the child.  That would put the parent in the position of violating one order for the purpose of carrying out the other.

So Jeske promptly lifted her order keeping Solomon away from Maile.

And that raises an obvious question that so far no one has seen fit to ask: if the order was so easily lifted, why was it in place to begin with?  The original order that was issued last March had essentially no objective evidence to back it up.  It was requested by Biryukova who was in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody proceeding.  Biryukova had spent time in mental institutions, and that fact threatened her chances of getting custody of the couple’s two children.  So she hit back at Solomon with allegations of abuse that were utterly without foundation.

But the lack of evidence didn’t stop Jeske from tossing Metalwala out of his children’s lives.  And, as we so often see, that readiness to separate fathers from children can have the worst of consequences.  Children sometimes die, children sometimes are abducted because courts too readily believe that fathers are dangerous to them.

So the question needs to be asked; more importantly, it needs to be answered.  After all, if Metalwala was such a bad dad that he couldn’t be alone with his children back in March, how did he become such a good dad that he got all but sole custody of Maile in December?  He’d had virtually no contact with his children, so how could he prove his fitness?  What had changed?

The answer is that nothing had changed to encourage Jeske to rescind her order, but rescind it she did.  The glaring truth is that she shouldn’t have issued the order in the first place.  Her recission of the order is a frank admission of exactly that. 

Solomon Metalwala hasn’t changed an iota.  The only thing that changed between March and December is that Julia Biryukova has proved once again that she’s not to be trusted with children.  We knew that in March.  In fact we knew that for a year before that.  But Commissioner Jacqueline Jeske ignored known facts about Biryukova’s unfitness and Metalwala’s fitness as parents.  She did the thing that’s become standard operating procedure in family courts; she issued a no-contact order against a father based on the slimmest of plainly pretextual claims by a mother.  Predictably, that turned out to be the wrong thing to have done.

Jeske’s lifting of her order is an admission of guilt.  She should never have cut Solomon Metalwala out of his children’s lives.  If she had acted more responsibly, Sky might be with us today.

Lest anyone conclude that I’m singling out Jeske for censure, I’m not.  Indeed, if she were the only family judge issuing no-contact orders on little evidence, I wouldn’t be so peeved, but she’s not; far from it.  The whole point is that what Jeske did is the rule in family courts, not the exception.  Until real due process of law returns to those courts, until real evidence of abuse, endangerment or unfitness is required before no-contact orders can be issued, we’ll see more children killed and abducted.  It’s predictable as the sunrise.

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