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Husch Blackwell's Pro Bono Work Resolves Two International Child Abduction Cases

 
April 03, 2019
 
Client Success

“It is cases like these – when we are able to use our skill and talent to help those who really need our help and could not otherwise afford quality legal representation – that make the practice of law especially rewarding,” Weiss said.

It may be rare that two completely unrelated pro bono cases could have so much in common. But for Husch Blackwell, two cases the firm recently resolved looked almost like mirror images. Both involved international parental child abductions that invoked the Hague Convention. Both children involved were young girls taken to the U.S. by their mothers, who illegally slipped into the country. Both children were from Honduras, and both cases took years to resolve.

Most importantly, both had happy endings, with the young girls reunited with their rightful fathers and family. And both cases clearly demonstrate that no value can be placed on the painstaking efforts it takes to untangle all the complex barriers, be they legal, language or international borders.

The first case began in September 2015, when Osmin came home from work to find his 22-month-old daughter and her mother gone. He learned they had left Honduras to cross the border into the U.S. via Mexico to live with the father of her first child. Osmin reached out to the Honduran government to enlist the help of the U.S. State Department, utilizing provisions of the Hague Convention.

The Hague Convention is an international treaty signed by 100 nations that provides a method of return for a child abducted by a parent from one member country to another. The primary intention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal of a child. The treaty has been in force since 1983.

The second case had a similar beginning, as Javier (not his real name) found his daughter missing in 2016, and discovered his ex-wife took their child and fled the country. The mother smuggled herself through Mexico and illegally entered the U.S., ultimately making her way to Springfield, Missouri. Javier filed an application under the Hague Convention seeking the return of his child to his custody in Honduras.

Fortunately for both men, Husch Blackwell works with the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, and took pro bono representation in both cases as part of the Hague Convention network. Jennifer Ziegenhorn and Ryan Burgett in the firm’s Chattanooga, Tenn., office took Osmin’s pro bono case. Chris Weiss and Shelly Rosenfelder accepted representation of Javier from the firm’s Springfield, Missouri, office.

Each case encountered multiple roadblocks and hindrances as the months turned into years, requiring incredible persistence and unrelenting determination. For example, even when the court granted the order to return his daughter, Javier was twice denied a travel visa to get his child. Finally, attorneys were able to convince the Honduran government to send an official from its foreign ministry to travel to Springfield and accompany the minor child on her return trip home. In July 2018, after being separated for more than two years, father and daughter were reunited, and today they are happy and doing very well.

For Osmin, the separation was even longer. In August 2018, almost three years since he last hugged his daughter, Osmin was reunited with his child.
  
Osmin later wrote, “Completamente feliz gracias a Dios y a ustedes muy contento de tener a mi bebé aqui conmigo todo fue un éxito muchas gracias.” (“Completely happy thanks to God and you. Very happy to have my baby here with me, everything was a success. Thank you very much.”)

“It is cases like these – when we are able to use our skill and talent to help those who really need our help and could not otherwise afford quality legal representation – that make the practice of law especially rewarding,” Weiss said. “These cases remind us all of the extraordinary responsibility we as lawyers have to the rule of law and the pursuit of justice.”

Ziegenhorn and Burgett had a strong team helping them. Samantha Lunn handled appeals, Derek Terry assisted with a key motion, and Millie Bond tirelessly translated all the written communications.

“When you get the photos from the reunion,” Ziegenhorn said, “that’s when you suddenly forget about the frustration and headaches over the continual delays. This type of pro bono work is extremely fulfilling, knowing the positive impact one can make on another’s life.”

Professionals:

Ryan A. Burgett

Associate

Shelly Rosenfelder

Associate