August 19, 2004
Heflin custody dispute update
All right, the Talmadge Heflin custody case is now on the front page of the Chron, and it's time to consider a couple of uncomfortable questions.
First and foremost is the question of the Heflins' motivation for bringing a suit to remove a child from his natural parents. They claim the parents do not care for the child, and that the father has abused the mother. That all may be true, but this testimony is making me very skeptical:
"The emotions are so strong that it is going to affect both parties, but this is not about the emotions," said Mathew Nwogu, the parents' attorney.
It is about "what is in the best interest of the child," he said, "and (the Heflins') wealth has nothing to do with it."
The Heflins, meanwhile, testified that they could provide better opportunities for the boy.
"We all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison," Talmadge Heflin said.
Nwogu later responded that statistics about the incarceration of black men have nothing to do with this case.
I'm trying to understand what Heflin means here. Is this some kind of white-man's-burden thing? Surely he doesn't mean in general that a black male child would be less likely to wind up in jail if he were adopted by a white couple, and surely he doesn't mean that incarceration statistics mean that in general black parents are less fit than white parents. So what exactly does he mean?
Question number two is at what point (if any) should Hubert Vo make a campaign issue out of this? Normally, it would be sleazy to bring up a personal matter like a custody dispute, since such things are not really relevant to how one would perform in office. Heflin's statement about black male children and prison is really troubling, though, and I don't think it's unreasonable to ask him about it. But there's a lot of risk involved in going down that path, and it also opens up the accuser to a different kind of scrutiny. Besides, the Heflins may wind up winning custody, so at the very least saying something before a ruling is made is extra risky. I don't know, and I'm glad it's not my call to make.
As for when a ruling is coming:
Family District Court Judge Linda Motheral heard about five hours of testimony before saying she would issue a ruling no sooner than Friday on who will be awarded primary custody.
"This is a very serious case," she said. "I really do not believe that I have everything I need in front of me."
Motheral said she wants to study the legal issues more closely and may order an evaluation of both couples.
I certainly don't envy the judge her position. I'll be very interested to see what she does.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 19, 2004 to Election 2004
"I'm trying to understand what Heflin means here. Is this some kind of white-man's-burden thing? Surely he doesn't mean in general that a black male child would be less likely to wind up in jail if he were adopted by a white couple, and surely he doesn't mean that incarceration statistics mean that in general black parents are less fit than white parents. So what exactly does he mean?" - CK
Knowing only what I read about Heflin, I contend it is likely that he means exactly those things, and worse.
Look: every wealthy family can make an argument that they would offer a child a richer life (pun intended) than a low-income family. If we permit that argument to prevail, we have lost all claim to being a family-friendly society. Maybe the Heflins really do love the child. So what? It's not their child, and manipulating the courts to obtain custody, absent evidence of abuse, is a deplorable act.
"We all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison..." - Talmadge Heflin
Given Heflin's position of power, I might suggest he take a legislative approach to the problem: e.g., put in place a system that really assures an adequate defense for indigent defendants, rather than today's system that so often results in plea-bargaining even by innocent people. And Nwogu is correct: general crime statistics have no bearing on individual cases, and while I've read accounts of "expert" testimony given in court a number of times, it is always false on its face. That Heflin believes such claptrap is evidence of racism on his part.
"I certainly don't envy the judge her position." - CK
Actually, it looks pretty simple to me. There is only one legitimate issue here as far as I can tell: did the parents demonstrably physically abuse or neglect the child? If not, the child stays with the biological parents, presuming they want him. End of story. Again, if we start taking kids from parents because we think the parents don't love them enough, we set a very dangerous precedent.
"Question number two is at what point (if any) should Hubert Vo make a campaign issue out of this?" - CK
It's probably not a good idea for Vo to make an issue of this. But if there are more articles on the front page of the Chronicle, Vo may not have to do it himself; it may become an issue on its own. And of course he can answer any questions about the subject in general terms.
This Talmadge Heflin guy is a snake!
Couple of things here.
First, as Steve notes, Helfin certainly adopts a rascist slant on this.
Secondly, I puzzle over the difference between this case and one from '98 involving Jim Moore and his custody battle (full disclosure - Moore is my ex brother in law). Here too, the minor was black. However, in Moore's case, there was significant involvement on the minority community's part - the NAACP , Justice for Children, the National Black United Front, SHAPE Community Center and the Nation of Islam among others. I don't see that happening here.
In Moore's case, there was pretty good evidence the child would have been better off with Moore and he lost custody. Helfin can only marshall racist blather and unsubstantiated accusations yet will probably get custody.
Not to be political but Moore was a single sole-practitioner plantiff's attorney and certainly not part of the Harris County power circles. Again, this is certainly not Heflin. However, I suspect it is central to how the case will be decided.
Why shouldn't Vo make an issue of the comment about black male children and prisons? Not necessarily hay, but just in the sense of asking what was meant precisely.
If "we all know" then surely it is worth discussing.
I heard that in passing on the local news last night, and thought I heard him misspeak. I still think he misspoke, but he obviously said what I thought I heard!
I agree that it should be a simple decision based on whether or not the child has been abused or neglected. Is the child currently in the Child Protective Services system?
And as for the campaign issues, since Heflin is a lawmaker and has stated his reasons for wanting the child have to do with poverty and blacks in prison, it would be worth looking at his legislative history to see what if anything he has been doing in all his years of writing legislation to fix those problems. One I noticed over and over is that he wanted to end property tax and increase sales tax. Hmmm now who does that help?
Sir Heflin OR Sir Rynd?
Who is worse Heflin or Judge Frank Rynd? Judge Frank Rynd granted the Heflin's Temporary Custody! Surely Judge Rynd could easily see that Sir Heflin had clearly violated the law and couldn't keep his stories straight. To think that this Judge ruled upon mere allegations?...Let alone IMMIGRATION ISSUES. Should both be reviewed?
Thank God for Judge Motheral!