USA: Child custody fight resumes, despite disappearance


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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A long-running legal saga pitting two former lesbian partners in a child custody fight returns to Vermont this week, with the state’s highest court set to hear an appeal.

Lawyers for Lisa Miller, who has disappeared with the 8-year-old girl, are challenging a Family Court judge’s decision to award custody to former partner Janet Jenkins, of Fair Haven.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins and mother Lisa Miller, of Forest, Va., failed to appear for a court-ordered Jan. 1 custody swap in which Jenkins was to get the girl. Since then, Jenkins’ attorney has said the two are believed to have moved to El Salvador.

A contempt citation and arrest warrant have been issued for Miller in Vermont, and a Virginia court has issued a show cause order against her.

Isabella Miller-Jenkins is listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which calls her disappearance a “family abduction.”

Still, the legal wrangling — which dates to 2003 — goes on.

On Wednesday, the Vermont Supreme Court will hear arguments from Miller’s attorneys who say Judge William Cohen erred last November in awarding custody to Jenkins, who is not the biological mother.

The attorneys, who say they haven’t had contact with Miller since last September and don’t know where she is, previously asked to withdraw as her lawyers but were denied.

“From our standpoint, we have not been able to reach Lisa Miller,” said Mathew Staver, an attorney with Liberty Counsel, a conservative nonprofit law firm that provides legal aid in cases involving religious liberty, sanctity of life and families.

“We know that her desires have been to continue to press the appeal to get to the constitutional questions.”

The appeal centers on whether there were adequate grounds to strip Miller of her parental rights in the first place.

Her attorneys say there weren’t.

Jenkins, of Fair Haven, Vt., says Miller’s “deliberate, ongoing and near total sabotage of every court order of visitation” give Miller little standing to challenge the Family Court’s ruling, and that the judge in that case rightly transferred custody for the well-being of the girl.

Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000, and the girl was conceived via artificial insemination. The two broke up in 2003, and have battled in the courts ever since.

Miller moved to Virginia and renounced homosexuality, becoming an evangelical Christian.

Jennifer Levi, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who represents Jenkins, says the appeal is an attempt to have the court revisit legal questions that have already been decided. Under the circumstances, it’s especially wrong, she said.

“It doesn’t make sense for a lawyer unable to communicate with a client to pursue very important issues at the appellate level. Clearly, they have a broader legal agenda in continuing this legal fight, which is all but dead,” said Levi.

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