Saturday, September 15, 2007

Testimony Ends In Cuban Custody Case

CBS News

Sep 15, 2007 8:28 am US/Eastern

Ileana Varela

(CBS4) MIAMI Attorneys for a Cuban farmer who wants to take custody of his 5-year-old daughter rested their case on Friday.

They did not present any witnesses nor any evidence, explaining they did not have to because they were confident that state failed to prove their client is an unfit father.

The unusual move, according to CBS4 news partners The Miami Herald was decided by the attorneys for Rafael Izquierdo after the judge said Friday that the state Department of Children & Families will have a hard time convincing her the father abandoned his daughter.

When the trial resumes Tuesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen will hear closing arguments. She said she expects to render a decision by Friday.

That may not be the end of it. Even if the judge rules that Izquierdo is a fit parent, DCF attorneys said they will ask her to order that the girl remain permanently with the Coral Gables foster family that has raised her the past 18 months. They say the girl has bonded with her foster family and half-brother and will suffer permanent harm if separated.

The girl, who celebrated her fifth birthday a week ago, is living with Joe and Maria Cubas, the Cuban-American couple fighting to keep her.

The couple adopted the girl's 13-year-old half-brother after the boy's father in Cuba agreed to surrender his parental rights.

On Wednesday, Judge Cohen tossed out a significant piece of the state's case: its claim that Izquierdo failed to protect his daughter when he allowed her to emigrate to the United States in 2005 with a mother he knew was mentally unstable.

The most important argument remaining is DCF's claim that Izquierdo abandoned his daughter when he allowed her to move to the United States permanently and by doing little to reclaim her after she came under the care of DCF two years ago.

Friday, Izquierdo's attorney, Steven Weinger, said the state failed to present sufficient evidence to prove Izquierdo either neglected or abandoned his daughter, who was taken into DCF custody in December 2005 after the children's mother, Elena Pérez, slashed her wrists with a kitchen knife.

Much of the morning Friday was spent in a discussion of how much weight the judge will give to a series of almost 50 phone calls and 43 visits between Izquierdo and his daughter once the father arrived in Miami to fight for custody.

The father's attorneys said that the visits and calls show that he never intended to give up his right to raise the girl.

Weinger said that the father's legal team planned to present the log of visits and calls as evidence.

But attorneys for DCF and the Guardian ad Litem Program, which represents the girl's legal interests, said that they would then present videos of some of the visits to show that Izquierdo has failed to bond with his daughter.

Lead DCF attorney Jason Dimitris said the state also wanted to show that Izquierdo did not fight hard enough to reclaim his daughter in phone calls with officials and friends in Miami who were aware of her plight.

Weinger countered that, under Florida law, the zeal with which Izquierdo sought custody is irrelevant.

Judge Cohen said the state would have an ''extremely, extremely untenable and difficult'' time proving that Izquierdo abandoned the girl, given recent appeals court rulings.

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