USA: Mat Staver & Liberty Counsel Face Lawsuit For Their Role In The Lisa Miller Kidnapping Case


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Last year, we noted that Religious Right activist Philip Zodhiates had been convicted of international parental kidnapping for his role in helping a self-declared former lesbian named Lisa Miller kidnap the daughter she raised with her former partner and flee the country. In covering that news, we recounted the entire saga, which began back in 2009 and involved several anti-LGBTQ activists Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as well as philipzodhiates-660x330organizations like Liberty Counsel and Liberty University:

Back in 2009, we started covering the story of Lisa Miller, a self-declared former lesbian who had become a hero to the Religious Right for defying legal orders to allow her former partner, Janet Jenkins, to see their daughter. After the couple had separated, Miller had moved from Vermont to Virginia, where she joined Jerry Falwell’s church, renounced her homosexuality and then refused to allow Jenkins to see the daughter they had had together. During the legal battle, Miller was represented by Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver and lawyers affiliated with Liberty University, both of which are connected to Falwell’s church.

Eventually, due to her intransigence and refusal to follow visitation orders, a judge in Vermont ordered Miller to transfer custody to Jenkins, but Miller refused and disappeared with her daughter.

Anti-gay activists heaped praise upon Miller for defying the court order and absconding with her daughter, while Liberty Counsel immediately went silent and began to try and wash its hands of the case, insisting that it had no idea where Miller had gone and that it had nothing to do with her disappearance.

Eventually, it was discovered that Miller had fled the country and, according to an FBI affidavit, wound up at a home in Nicaragua owned by Philip Zodhiates, a Religious Right activist whose daughter just so happened to be an administrative assistant at Liberty University Law School, where Miller’s Liberty Counsel attorneys, Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, both worked. Even more amazingly, Miller’s attorneys reportedly just so happened to be teaching law students at Liberty University that Christian lawyers handling a case like Miller’s have a religious duty to counsel their client that they have an obligation to ignore the law and engage in “civil disobedience” in order to uphold God’s law.

In 2012, Liberty Law School was hit with a RICO lawsuit by Jenkins for allegedly playing a role in Miller’s kidnapping of their daughter, while Zodhiates was charged with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping in federal court.

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The RICO suit mentioned had been placed on hold while criminal prosecutions against those involved were underway. But now that those proceedings are over, the court is allowing the case to move forward and, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reported yesterday, it has been expanded—based on information gathered during the criminal proceedings—to include Staver and Lindevaldsen as defendants:

Jenkins filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Miller and others who had conspired to assist in the kidnapping, but the case was put on hold in favor of criminal prosecutions against some of the conspirators. This fall, Jenkins, represented by Sarah Star, Esq. as well as attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, asked the federal court in Vermont to lift the stay, and, in light of new evidence adduced through the criminal prosecutions, to permit them to name Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, as well as Liberty Counsel lawyers Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as defendants. On Monday, the court issued a 61-page order granting that request and lifting the stay.

“I’m pleased that the court today expressly confirmed that the kidnapping was an affront to our client’s rights not just as a mother, but also as a former member of a same-sex couple whose rights the Constitution protects,” said Sarah Star, Esq., who also served as Ms. Jenkins’ attorney during the custody dispute. “The court acknowledged its obligation to protect those rights and to ensure that we can pursue Ms. Jenkins’ claims expeditiously, which we intend to do.”

“The court has given the green light to a full exploration of Liberty Counsel’s role in the kidnapping of Isabella, as well as the role of the Liberty Counsel lawyers,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are pleased the court recognized that our allegations suggested ‘significant wrongdoing’ by these lawyers, including Mat Staver, and we will move swiftly to learn more about their wrongdoing and to hold everyone involved in the kidnapping to account.”

“We are gratified that we can now move this case forward on behalf of our client Janet,” said Fritz Langrock, partner at Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP.

USA: Abducted 12-year-old WNC girl found when mother runs out of gas, deputies say


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The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office said Zoee Bishop-Cantrell, 12, was taken Thursday from Flat Rock Middle School by a noncustodial parent.

The girl was found safe in Jackson County, Georgia, and is in protective custody, waiting to be taken back to North Carolina, deputies said.

The girl’s biological mother, Selena Bishop, 28, has been taken into custody on charges of felony abduction of a child, according to deputies.

They said authorites found the pair after Bishop ran out of gas on Highway 441 near Commerce, Georgia.

Maj. Frank Stout said the girl never got off the school bus Thursday at her grandmother’s house. When the grandmother called the school, they told her she had been picked up by Bishop, according to Stout.

Stout said a judge had terminated Bishop’s parental rights due to competency and drug issues.

A Henderson County girl abducted by her mother was found early Saturday morning on the side of a Georgia road after running out of gas, deputies say.

USA: Target 9 investigation: Monroe County mother fighting to get her son back


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A Monroe County mother is looking for help on an international level as she seeks to have her 9-year-old son returned home to the United States.

“It’s really broken our family,” mother Barbie Hise said. “We’re all just broken hearted. And I want to stress more than anything we just want him back. We want our family whole again. ”

Zander is the boy at the center of this story. His mom has not seen him since November, when she sent him to see his father, Ian Scicluna, nearly 6,000 miles away in the Mediterranean Island country of Malta.

There, despite a court-ordered visitation schedule from Monroe County, Ian got a Maltese court to rule that Zander would stay in Malta indefinitely. The ruling found in part that because Zander was being homeschooled in the USA, he wasn’t being socialized properly.

Barbie says he was being homeschooled because he has autism. And now Zander’s spectrum disorder is being used as a pawn in court.

“I’m a mom and I can’t imagine anything more frightening than getting an email that says I’m not going to see my little boy anymore,” Barbie’s attorney Rebecca Bench said.

The problem?

According to Bench, there has not been a custody dispute. Barbie and her husband Josh have long been Zander’s primary caretakers. Zander’s visits to Malta are part of the Monroe County custodial agreement. Barbie was not in Malta for the court ruling, and was not told about the proceedings until after the ruling. Now the family is relying on a complex web of international bureaucracy.

“Every year at least 1,000 American children are unlawfully taken from the United States and taken to a foreign nation,” said Dr. Noelle Hunter, president and CEO of “I Stand Parent Network.”

The non-profit I Stand Parent Network has been one of the few resources Barbie has been able to turn to in gearing up for an expensive and lengthy legal fight to get her son back in the country.

“I do feel betrayed,” she said. “I trusted that when I sent my son over, I was gonna get him back. We let him have a Christmas and we still have Christmas presents over there waiting because we expected him back. ”

Barbie, her attorney, and the I Stand Parent Network are adamant that this is an abduction case violating federal and international law, and not simply a child custody dispute.

Scicluna responded in emails that he’s acting in good faith and keeping communication open with Barbie and her family.

For Barbie, her fight now is the legal costs. In some cases, parents have spent a half million dollars getting jurisdiction back in a U.S. court.

Donations to Barbie’s legal fund can be made in any WesBanco Bank branch by donating to the “Bring Zander Home” account. More donations can be made here.

2016 USA Department of State International Parental Abduction – Reports and Data


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US Department of State releases 2016 Compliance Report

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The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA), signed into law on August 8, 2014, contains provisions that increase the Department’s annual reporting requirements. Each year, the Department will submit an Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction to Congress by April 30. Additionally, the Department will submit a subsequent report to Congress on the actions taken towards those countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance in the Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction.

Prior to 2015, as formerly required under 42 U.S.C § 11611, the Department published an annual report on countries that did not comply with their treaty obligations under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction (Convention). The previous compliance report identified countries that were not compliant with the Convention, showed patterns of noncompliance with the Convention, and had Convention enforcement concerns. The report listed cases that remained open and active for 18 months or more after the Convention application was filed.

Tunisia / USA: Cardin presses Tunisian foreign minister on kidnapping case


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Sen. Ben Cardin pressed the Tunisian government on Monday to resolve a years-old, international kidnapping case involving a Maryland family, arguing that returning the child would “demonstrate Tunisia’s commitment to the rule of law.”

Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised the case in a meeting on Capitol Hill with Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui.

Eslam Chebbi, 10, and his sister were taken by their father from Prince George’s County to Tunisia in 2011, according to the FBI. Chebbi’s sister was later returned to her mother, a U.S. citizen who was raised in Maryland.

But Chebbi remains in Tunisia, despite court rulings in Tunisia and the United States granting custody to his mother, Édeanna Barbirou. Barbirou’s ex-husband, Faical Chebbi, is wanted by the FBI for international parental kidnapping.

“I asked Foreign Minister Jhinaoui to do everything he could to help enforce the five separate Tunisian court rulings granting Ms. Barbirou legal custody of her son,” Cardin, of Maryland, said in a statement. “Enforcement of these rulings would not only reunite a mother with her child, but would also demonstrate Tunisia’s commitment to the rule of law.”

The case underscores the long-standing problem of international child abductions. Custody orders issued in the United States are often ignored overseas. More than 1,000 cases are reported to the State Department each year, and fewer than half of the children are returned.

More than 90 nations, including the United States, have signed a treaty to expedite the review of cross-border abduction cases. Tunisia has not signed the treaty.

Canada: Mom asks for help after toddler allegedly abducted from B.C.


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A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for a Saanich woman who is accused of abducting her two-year-old daughter.

On May 14 Tasha Brown contacted Saanich police to report her estranged wife, Lauren Etchells, may have abducted their then 19-month-old daughter, Kaydance Etchells.

“I’ve waited in painful silence for nearly five months to publicly ask for help in locating Kaydance,” Brown said at a press conference on Monday.

After Brown and Lauren separated, Kaydance lived with Lauren full-time.

“Tasha had visitation rights that were to increase incrementally with a goal of joint custody,” Sgt. Jereme Leslie said.

Kaydance, Lauren, Lauren’s son and Lauren’s new partner, Marco van der Merwe, flew from Vancouver to England on May 8, according to police.

Lauren is a dual Canadian and UK citizen, police say.

In August 2015, a court order was signed by a provincial court judge stating that Lauren needed to surrender Kaydance’s UK passport, that she cannot apply for a Canadian passport for Kaydance, nor can she leave Vancouver Island.

According to police, in April 2016 Lauren lied to Passport Canada and obtained a Canadian passport for Kaydance.

b_0_0_0_00___images_stories_2017_bonkalo-anne-marieSaanich police have since learned that Lauren, Kaydance, and Lauren’s son travelled from England to France, all three travelling with UK passports.

Their current whereabouts are unknown at this time, but it’s believed they are living somewhere in Europe, police say.

Monday marked Kaydance’s second birthday.

“Today I celebrate her birth again, but with tears of sorrow,” Brown said. “If I had one birthday wish for you Kaydance it would be that you would be found and brought back to Canada.”

Brown has started a GoFundMe page to raise awareness on the issue.

Saanich police have been working with a number of agencies including Interpol and the RCMP National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains.

The warrant for Lauren’s arrest is for one count of abduction by a parent and two counts of disobeying a court order.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Saanich police at 1-888-980-1919, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection at 1-866-543-8477 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Argentina / USA: Facebook, jurisdiction arguments in kidnapping case


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A federal prosecutor raised concerns about recent Facebook posts by a man accused of kidnapping his own son 12 years ago, claiming that he has continued to make threats against FBI agents investigating the case.

Juan Carlos Ruffier appeared in federal court Friday morning for a detention hearing in connection with the 2005 kidnapping of his then-3-year-old son and for allegedly threatening to kill an FBI agent.

FBI El Paso Division agents arrested Ruffier at the Paso Del Norte port of entry on Monday, officials said. He allegedly hid the boy from his ex-wife in Juárez, Argentina and Paraguay for about 12 years.

He is charged with one count each of international parental kidnapping and threatening a federal officer. He also faces two counts each of interstate communications — threats and obstructing justice by retaliating against a witness, victim or informant, according to an indictment.

Ruffier’s defense lawyers Manuel Acosta-Rivera and Reginaldo Trejo requested the detention hearing be pushed back to give them more time to prepare their case.

Federal prosecutor Debra Kanof objected, arguing that defense lawyers never told her they weren’t ready to proceed and had even flown in an FBI agent from Florida to testify.

After some back on forth from both parties, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne T. Berton granted the motion for a continuance and reset the detention hearing for Wednesday.

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One of the biggest points of contention between Kanof and defense lawyers was the case’s jurisdiction.

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Defense lawyers claimed that Ruffier was prosecuted in Argentina on the same kidnapping charge and therefore should not be tried in the Western District of Texas.

Details on the Argentina case were not clear Friday.

Kanof argued that any case against Ruffier in Argentina did not impact the charges he faces in the United States, saying that both are sovereign states. She argued that Ruffier could face charges in both countries without double jeopardy coming into play.

Kanof said that Ruffier hired “expensive” El Paso investigator Jay J. Armes to “find and stalk” one of the victims in the case. The victim was not named during the hearing.

Armes, who was at the hearing, later confirmed he was working pro bono for the defense team.

Defense lawyers did not address the accusations about Armes during the hearing.

Kanof also cited several Facebook posts by Ruffier, including one posted hours before his arrest.

e58“Bueno amigos … Llego la hora. A la guerra!” the post read. “Well friends … The time has come. To war!”

“He posted that he is going to war. This shows that he is continuing to make threats,” Kanof argued.

The post has several replies from Ruffier’s friends, including one with a derogatory message toward Kanof.

Acosta-Rivera said after the hearing that he looks forward to proving Ruffier’s innocence.

“We believe he is not guilty and we are working to prove that,” Acosta-Rivera said.

The alleged kidnapping occurred in 2005 after Ruffier divorced the boys mother, Olga Ruffier, according to court documents. During a visitation that year, Juan Ruffier allegedly noticed bruises on the boy and refused to return him to the mother.

Over the 12 years, Juan Ruffier fled to Juarez, Argentina and Paraguay in an attempt to hide the boy from his mother, according to court documents.

Juan Ruffier also allegedly threatened to assault and kill an FBI agent investigating the case in February 2006, and made a threat against the agent in a text message to his second wife, Wenda Lee Ferrell, court documents state.

Ferrell was also allegedly threatened by Juan Ruffier on May 2, 2006, for providing information to federal agents, court documents state.