March 17th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
I recently wrote a piece on the thoroughly defective article in the New York Times by Professor Joan Meier of George Washington University Law School on international child abductions. Her entirely unsupported (and unsupportable) thesis was “that courts typically order children returned to fathers known to have physically abused the mother.”
That thesis was not only unsupported by any facts, but actually untrue, a fact I pointed out in my first piece. But she did refer obliquely to a single case she claimed supported that thesis. I learned from Meier that the case she referred to was that of Lura Calder who had a son with Maurizio Rigamonti, an Italian man living in Parma.
That Meier should attempt to recruit that case to her cause shows beyond question the utter bankruptcy of said cause. Here is how Rigamonti described the outrageous behavior of his ex-wife (Herald de Paris, 6/17/12). In addition to Rigamonti’s published words, I’ve been in contact with a source who knowledgeable about the case and is a friend of the family. He and Rigamonti have provided me with documents in the case.
It’s an all-too-familiar story. Rigamonti and Calder, an American, were married and lived in his native Parma. Their son Leonardo was born there and the family remained together until he was four. But then the two experienced marital difficulties that made Calder concerned that she’d lose custody of Leo, since, among other things, Calder was an alcoholic. So, with the assistance of her American family, Calder conspired to abduct the little boy to California.
Saying she was taking Leo to kindergarten, she instead boarded a plane with him for Heathrow Airport with connections to the United States. That was on February 16, 2010. In Los Angeles, she asked a court for custody of the child and in the process, for the first time made allegations of abuse, all of which were baseless and some of which were obviously so. For example, she claimed Rigamonti had threatened her with a gun. The only problem was, he’d never owned a gun. She claimed he was an alcoholic and used illegal drugs. But Rigamonti has a chronic medical condition that prohibits him from drinking or using drugs. Calder’s ludicrous claim that her husband was a member of the mafia was easily rebutted by his many friends and family.
Calder asked for a domestic violence restraining order on March 3, 2010. On March 26, the claim of abuse was referred to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. By May 17, the DCF had investigated Calder’s claims and found them to be either inconclusive or unfounded.
Despite the finding that there was no evidence that Rigamonti was an abuser, it took him over two years of agony and expense to pry his son loose from the clutches of a court system that was all but entirely unresponsive to the needs of a little boy and his father. Rigamonti spent some $200,000 on lawyers and trips to California in his profoundly frustrating but unstinting fight to save his son.
To get an idea of the disgraceful behavior of the California court and Lura Calder, read Rigamonti’s piece that I linked to. Among other things, Calder kept adding more and different charges of abuse including sexual abuse of Leo. At one point, her lawyer actually produced a letter, written by a lawyer in Italy whose message was this: “we were told unofficially that Maurizio Rigamonti got in touch with someone in Parma asking him to do something illegal (?) against Lura/Leo but this person refused to do anything illegal. Please note that the person who told us the above won’t confirm it anywhere…”
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever practiced before a judge who wouldn’t laugh that sort of “evidence” out of court and direct some choice words at any lawyer stupid enough to offer it. But when a mother claims abuse, it seems anything goes.
Meanwhile, Calder had custody of Leo and used it as an opportunity to turn the boy against his father. Supervised visits between Rigamonti and his son displayed the alienation clearly as a formerly loving little boy rejected his father.
Still, Rigamonti was optimistic about the trial of his Hague Convention case. And why not? He had an enormous amount of evidence on his side while Calder’s claims of abuse had already been set aside by the DCF.
“July 27 arrived and after 10 days of process (the longest in the history of abduction cases), after spending $ 40,000, after I had 28 witnesses declarations written in my favor, four witness telephoned court call from Italy in my favor, 1 testimoy present in court in my favor from Los Angeles, the investigation of sexual abuse and domestic violence conducted by the Social Services Americans proved unfounded and inconclusive: No concrete proof of the accusations made against me. Instead, Leo’s mother’s alcohol abuse was confirmed in the Court.”
Not only that, but the judge had a report by a court monitor of a supervised visit Rigamonti had with Leo. That report described not only a joyful 2 1/2 hour visit at a park and a gelato store between father and son, it also contained strong suggestions of parental alienation by Calder. So what did the court do?
“By this time it is August 9 and the Judge finally ruled and said that on the basis of a report, THE CHILD SHOULD NOT BE RETURNED TO ITALY WITH THE FATHER because he could suffer emotional harm, and because it has been shown to have a hostile attitude towards the father, but that Leo could be send back to Italy only with his mother, and only if the father will remove the charge for kidnapping against the mother, and only if the Italian courts have issued a restraining order (without any complaint) against the father to protects the mother, only if the father will pay all the expenses for the mother and the child including their accommodations.
Only if these conditions were satisfied in the Court of Los Angeles, could the child return to Italy.”
Now, we’ve seen this before. When Tommaso Vincenti’s four daughters were abducted from Italy to Australia by their mother Laura Garrett, the Australian courts wasted three years before ordering their return. But when they finally got around to it, it was only with the express representation by Italian police and courts that, if Garrett chose to return to Italy, she wouldn’t be arrested or charged with the crimes she unquestionably committed. The Italian courts and police provided the requisite assurances and the girls were sent back, but it always astonished me that a mother who committed a criminal wrong could make such demands and have them granted.
The same was true in Rigamonti’s case except, when he got the Italian court to comply with the demands of the Los Angeles County judge and presented the proof thereof to her, she still refused to return Leo to his father and his home country.
“In October I had been able to complete what the judge imposed me to do (The judge didn’t have any jurisdiction in Italy to impose me to provide all this orders), but for the price of having Leo back to Italy I had to beg the judge in Italy to get this order, especially for the restraining order because I didn’t do anything wrong in my country.
So the 21 of October 2010, my lawyer showed up in court with all those documents translated (I paid another 1000 dollars) and the judge after looking at them said, “I’m sorry Mr. Rigamonti but for me these are just piece of paper and if I were Ms.Calder I would never jump on a plane for Rome with the risk to get prosecuted and arrested.”
I was present with a phone court call and I couldn’t belive it what I was hearing. I told the judge that I did everything she asked me to do, but she ruled – Leo was not coming back and he was going to stay in LA with his mother. I would be able to see him only at the discretion of his mother. This was to much.”
Rigamonti got a new lawyer and appealed the judge’s decision. At the hearing in the Court of Appeals, it was apparent that the judges understood what was going on and were determined to overturn the trial judge’s disgracefully biased decision. But by the time the appellate court ruled and the trial court complied, almost 2 ½ years had elapsed. The little boy who was four at the time of his abduction was almost seven.
So Leo returned with his father to Italy where they live to this day.
I’ll write another piece on what’s happened since then, but for now I’d like to point out a few obvious things. First, Lura Calder never made any complaints of abuse by her husband to anyone in Italy. She kidnapped the child, took him to the U.S. and then charged abuse. Second, those claims were definitively ruled to be unfounded or inconclusive within two months of their having been made, but it took another two years, enormous sums of money and untold heartache for the court to do what the Hague Convention says should be done within 60 days.
Third, it is a crime in every state in this country for a parent to abduct a child. It’s a crime in California. But for some reason, no one seems to have even considered charging Lura Calder with a crime even though she had plainly committed one.
Finally, what Lura Calder did was child abuse. She totally upset the life of a little boy for her own selfish reasons. She attempted to turn the child against his loving father at an age when children have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction. She attempted to implant in Leo’s mind, the worst possible notions regarding his father. That behavior by a parent is regarded by mental health professionals as child abuse and well it should be.
But not only did the California judge refuse to comply with the dictates of the Convention, she aided and abetted the abuse of a child by his mother.
And that, my friends, is the sole “example” Joan Meier offered for her proposition that courts “typically” remove children from abused mothers and give them to abusive fathers. Oh, there’s an abusive parent here alright, but she’s not the one Meier meant. In the sole case she cited, it was in fact the mother who abused the child.
This is the level of intellectual honesty Joan Meier brings to the discussion of international child abduction.