August 23, 2004
Heflin custody case dismissed

Thank God.

A judge today dismissed the case in which state Rep. Talmadge Heflin and his wife were seeking custody of the 20-month-old son of African illegal immigrants.

Family District Judge Linda Motheral ordered the boy returned to his mother this afternoon, bringing an end to the high-profile custody battle that appeared as if it could take months to resolve.

"The law is very clear that the best interest of the child will be served if the biological parents bring him up in their own culture, in their own way," said Mathew Nwogu, one of the lawyers who represented the parents. "The mother and the father are very excited and at least they can say there is justice in the U.S. of A."


"The court, having heard all testimony and relevant issues, finds that (the Heflins) do not have standing, and the court on its own motion, dismisses the case," Motheral wrote.

Establishing standing is the first legal hurdle that must be cleared by someone seeking custody of a child.

In Texas, those who could have a valid claim to a child include the parents, the child himself and, in some cases, a step-parent.

Even grandparents do not automatically have standing under the law.

The Heflins argued that they had a valid claim to the boy under a provision of the law that allows attempts at custody by someone who has care, control and possession of a child for more than six months.

I think I tried reasonably hard to be fair to the possibility that the Heflins' suit could have had merit, but the more I read about this, the harder it got to give them the benefit of the doubt. I'm glad that more people are asking questions about this case, but the big question of how the Heflins got into a courtroom with temporary custody in hand - never mind how they came to be living with the child of illegal immigrants in the first place - remains unanswered. I fear now that their case has been dismissed, it will no longer get asked. Which is a shame, given the obviously unusual circumstances.

(Express News link via Drive Democracy.)

UPDATE: There's a little more info in the morning story. Also, I see that state Democratic Party chair Charles Soechting has raised the illegal immigrant question regarding this case:

Soechting said that Heflin may have already left himself open to perjury charges in state district court, criminal violations of federal immigration law, and penalties levied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Heflin has claimed to have no knowledge of the mother's immigration status, despite testimony that he gave her money to help arrange her legal papers. Heflin's attorney, Harry Tindall, has been a partner for 25 years in one of Houston's leading law firms specializing in immigration law and has said he believes the mother, who is from Uganda, is in the U.S. illegally, according to court documents and press reports.

"It simply isn't credible that Mr. Heflin had no knowledge of this young couple's legal status," Soechting said.

In addition, Heflin originally told the court that the young mother in the case came to work in his home as a caretaker for an elderly relative. He later revised his story, saying that she worked in his home as a "housekeeper." When questions of whether he may have failed to pay the required Social Security taxes on her were raised, he suddenly claimed she was merely a "house guest."

This is definitely an avenue worth exploring.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 23, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

I heard today via a GOP grapevine that Heflin got temporary custody via CPS after taking the kid to the emergency room, and that this may have prompted the court case. I don't recall reading that in any news story, but life's been hectic in the past few days, and I might have glossed over it.

Either way, and as you've mentioned before Charles, this is just all too weird. And then there's the question - does Vo use this in the campaign? This is undoubtedly going to lend aid to a whisper campaign against TH, but there's absolutely no way to gauge its effect.

Of course... out of 100 random people in his district, would you guess that even 15-20 would even KNOW the name "Talmadge Heflin"? This isn't the best way to raise name ID... especially in a Presidential year.

Posted by: Chris Elam on August 23, 2004 9:35 PM

I don't recall reading anything about CPS involvement, either, so I don't think you missed anything. Vo can certainly use this - the line about blacks and prison is surely worth talking about. I don't think name recognition is that big an issue, but there is a potential pitfall for Vo, since you almost have to use this in a negative context, and there's always a risk of backlash when you do that.

Best case for Vo is to bring this up in a debate or something similar. Maybe if the issue doesn't go away now that it's been dismissed, his campaign will get contacted for a quote - that'd seem to be up Rick Casey's alley if he hasn't lost interest.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 23, 2004 9:44 PM

The immigration charge question was the first thing I thought of when I realized the mother was illegal. Not to mention whatever charges in terms of failing to provide Social Security, etc., for a worker that Heflin was probably avoiding by using an undocumented worker.

I can't imagine why anyone prominent in Houston wouldn't use/find domestic workers through a service. The risks the other way would be just too high.

Posted by: Ginger on August 24, 2004 7:23 AM

It was always obvious the suit was unlikely to have any merit. They didn't meet the statutory requirement.

However, it seems to me that casting aspersions on someone's character is unwarranted.

What did they do that was so wrong? It's amazing to me how quick you are to read evil into Heflin's actions. If they had the temerity to file for custody, it seems likely that they believed the parents did not deserve custody.

The undocumented worker angle is another issue altogether.

For what it's worth, I'm not a big fan of Heflin's. Every intra-party thing I've worked on we've been opposed, and he hasn't impressed me. But I'm not going to suggest that he did something wrong when I have no evidence to believe that.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on August 24, 2004 2:51 PM

I don't think what he did was evil. I agree that he was motivated by good intentions. But he has a lot to answer for: How did he get temporary custody in the first place? What did he mean by that comment about black children and jail? And how come he says he didn't know the mother's immigration status? That's what I want to know.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 24, 2004 2:55 PM