After formal petitions for rehearing were filed Monday to ask the S.C. Supreme Court to reconsider the case involving three-year old Baby Veronica, Native American groups said they were ready to file suit in an effort to preserve the girl’s best interests.
Appeals in the case by the Cherokee Nation and birth father Dusten Brown came on Monday, five days after the South Carolina Supreme Court’s order that Veronica’s adoption by local couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco should be expedited by the family court.
The Cherokee Nation said in a statement after their filing, “It is very troubling that the South Carolina Supreme Court would move to terminate the parental rights of a man who has proven to be nothing but a fit and loving father, without even holding a hearing to determine what is in his own child’s best interests.”
Tribe officials also reported that a Cherokee Nation court granted temporary custody to Veronica’s grandfather just hours before last Wednesday’s ruling by the S.C. court. The tribe says the temporary order for legal custody, issued while birth father Dusten Brown is away on National Guard training, also blocks the finalization of Veronica’s adoption by S.C. courts in the meantime.
Reacting in a statement through a spokesperson today, Veronica’s birth mother Christy Maldonado, who has remained aligned with the Capobiancos, said she felt that the tribe was using Veronica as a “pawn” to protect their interests, not the child’s. Lawyers for Maldonado called the Cherokee Nation’s assertion “a shameful display of hubris,” saying the tribe’s custody order “puts the entire Indian Child Welfare Act statute on shakier ground.” That federal law, which the S.C. court originally said determined Brown’s custody claim to be legitimate before being reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, was enacted in 1978 to protect Native American children from being removed from their tribal homes.
Maldonado initially offered Veronica for adoption to the Capobiancos before the child’s birth in September 2009 and has remained allied with the couple over 18 months of legal wrangling surrounding the custody of her daughter.
The South Carolina Supreme Court will now determine whether to rehear the case based on the appeals.