August 20, 2004
Hotshot takes on Heflin

Rick Casey picks up the White Man's Burden ball and advances it down the field.

And the Heflins' lawyer argued that the child's parents couldn't afford health insurance, and the boy suffered the long waits that Medicaid coverage brings.

That raises a question. As the powerful chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, Heflin presided over a budget that cut about 7,000 children from the Children's Health Insurance Program (ed. note: I believe he means 147,000, which is the number usually cited in news accounts). CHIP covers children of parents who cannot afford private health insurance, but who make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

I wonder if Talmadge proposes, next session, to pass a law putting all those children up for adoption.


The baby's mother, Mariam Katamba, testified that after the Heflins offered to provide housing for her, she worked for them as a maid and was paid in cash.

That's a touchy issue for a politician, ever since Bill Clinton nominated Zoe Baird for attorney general. She withdrew under a stormy cloud after it came out that she hadn't paid Social Security taxes on her housekeeper.

Janice Heflin testified Katamba wasn't a maid, but a "house guest," and the only cash she gave her was to help her obtain a green card so she could legally stay in the United States.

But that only raised another sensitive issue for Talmadge. Would his conservative Republican constituents countenance the notion that he had harbored an illegal immigrant?

Not to worry. Whatever his wife's efforts to make Katamba legal, Talmadge was, he testified, unaware of the immigration status of the woman with whose baby he was bonding.


They said the mother wasn't around enough, but her job caused much of her absence. Having offered their assistance, it appears that they are offering her acceptance as evidence against her.

Most importantly, they offered no independent testimony or evidence — no police reports, no complaints to Child Protective Services, no testimony from medical staff.

It's just their word — and socioeconomics — against that of the parents.

And yet based on that they were able three weeks ago to get a judge to order a bailiff to seize the baby from his mother and turn him over to them without even hearing, until now, from the mother and father.

That is power.

Damn straight. I hope Casey, or somebody at least, can get Heflin to answer some of these questions. (Have I mentioned lately how much I miss Tim Fleck? He'd be on this like Andy Dick on a reality show babe.) In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Hubert Vo, the man who will hopefully replace Heflin this November, Texas Tuesdays has you covered.

As for the status of the case, the judge may rule today who gets to keep the child until final custody has been determined. Every expert quoted in this article is skeptical about the Heflins' claim.

"You don't acquire the right to be a parent of a child simply because you have a superior résumé," said Richard Carlson, a professor at the South Texas College of Law who specializes in family law. "There is a strong presumption in favor of the parents in custody cases."


Experts said there are two primary legal issues: whether the people seeking custody have a valid claim, which is called standing; and whether their reasons for wanting the child are compelling.

"It isn't supposed to be easy for a non-parent, even a grandparent, to get standing," said Laura Oren, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. "You wouldn't want the mailman to come along and say, 'I don't like the way you are raising your kids. I think I'll sue.' "


The Heflins are citing a provision in the law that allows standing for someone who has had continuous care, control and possession of the child for more than six months. They argue that, after moving into their house, Katamba left Fidel primarily in their care.

"It is not that cut-and-dried, especially in a case like this, what (continuous possession) means," Carlson said. "If I go and live with someone, does that mean they have the actual care, control and possession of my child? I don't believe that is what the law intended."


Beyond establishing that they have a valid claim to the child, the Heflins must show there is a convincing reason he should be taken from his biological parents. Such reasons could include danger to the child or possible emotional harm because he has bonded with the Heflins.

"My guess is that they are going to have to show there is some immediate danger to the child if he is turned over to the parents, to overcome the parental presumption," said Stewart Gagnon, a partner at the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski who helped to rewrite the state's family law code in 1993.


Before permanent custody is decided, the judge must determine who will keep the boy during the legal process.

Experts said this ruling, which could come today, could have major impact on the Heflins' efforts to win permanent custody.

"The potential problem with granting temporary custody to the non-parents is that it could be used to bolster their standing when it comes to permanent custody," Oren said.

Experts also questioned why a judge signed an order July 27 to give the Heflins the boy, who had been with his mother since July 19, until temporary custody is resolved.

"Unless there is a serious immediate question regarding an emergency with the child, that typically does not happen," Oren said.

Another excellent question. Keep them coming, and let's see if we ever get any answers.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 20, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack