Friday, December 18, 2009

Missing: Mom watches as Law aids Father in son's Snatching

Mom watches as law aids in son's snatching

Please Call his mother Berenice Diaz (001)210-550-1114 or email her or call (001)210-410-9312. Thanks



Berenice Diaz holds a photo of her son, Jean Paul Lacombe. The 10-year-old’s father, Jean Philippe Lacombe, convinced state District Judge Sol Casseb that he was the rightful guardian, using misleading documents from Mexican judicial authorities.


A this photo provided by Berenice Diaz shows Jean Paul Lacombe at age 5.

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By Craig Kapitan - Express-News

As the uniformed men approached the 10-year-old’s school bus that Friday afternoon last month, the eyes of his classmates widened. A frantic scene ensued.

Berenice Diaz recalled the confusion as two other deputy constables blocked the door of her Mitsubishi Outlander. Diaz had driven to the bus stop to pick up her son, Jean Paul Lacombe.

“He was on his knees shouting and crying, ‘Don’t let me go with him,’ ” Diaz said of her son, who realized his father was with the uniformed men.

The mother eventually persuaded a constable to let her approach her son. She hugged him and the two cried together.

“Please don’t take him,” she pleaded with the officer, who replied they had a court order and told her she could see her son again in court on Monday.

“You’re making this harder,” she recalled him telling her.

That was Oct. 16. The day before, the boy’s father, Jean Philippe Lacombe, had convinced state District Judge Sol Casseb that he was the rightful guardian, using misleading documents from Mexican judicial authorities.

Father and son haven’t been seen since.

“I call it a government-assisted kidnapping,” said San Antonio attorney Miguel Ortiz, who now represents the distraught mother. “This guy made a mockery of our courts. It’s offensive.”

'Serious problems'

In 1988, Congress adopted the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, or ICARA, which established rules for returning children who have been abducted from their home country. More than 70 nations signed the treaty, including Mexico and France.

It bans U.S. courts from retrying a custody suit that already has been resolved elsewhere. It allowed Jean Paul to be returned to his mother in 2007 after she found him in France, but it also allowed the boy’s father to dupe Bexar County’s court system last month.

As the couple’s seven-year marriage began to dissolve in Mexico City in 2005, Lacombe initially was given custody of the boy as long as he followed visitation rules the court imposed, according to translated documents he provided to Casseb. When he failed to abide, full custody was given to Diaz, according to court documents his ex-wife later provided.

When Lacombe arrived in court here Oct. 15, his attorneys told Casseb the child had been abducted from him.

Prominent San Antonio attorneys James Monnig and John Mead, who represented Lacombe, did not return calls seeking comment. Their attorney H.E. Mendez said the two aren’t at fault for helping Lacombe.

During a hearing earlier this month, a judge agreed.

“They appeared to be genuine documents” that the father provided, Mendez said. “How far do you have to go to establish that?”

The outcome was unfortunate and highly unusual, Casseb said. But quick hearings in which temporary custody decisions are made with only one side present happen every day, he added.

“When you have an emergency involving a child, you don’t always have an opportunity to wait,” Casseb said. “More often than not, the right thing is done. Kids are taken out of harm’s way.”

Perhaps the process should be altered so another agency, such as Child Protective Services, can take custody of the child until both sides are heard, but the current system makes ex parte hearings a necessity, he said.

“Am I upset that (Lacombe) did that? Sure,” Casseb said. “I’m upset anytime any litigant disobeys a court order. There’s nothing that I, or any other judge, could have or would have done differently unless the law was changed.”

Some family law experts stressed it is difficult to critique such a complex custody case.

“I’d guess that it’s pretty uncommon for an abductor to trick a court,” said Brooklyn Law School Professor Marsha Garrison, who also serves as secretary-general of the International Society of Family Law. “It seems odd that the officials handed over the child without a hearing on the matter at which the other parent was allowed to present evidence, but then I don’t know what evidence was offered by the father.”

Ortiz, the attorney who represents the boy’s mother, has been careful to place the blame mostly on Lacombe and his attorneys. But, he added: “Everyone should have been more careful.

“When the guy can use the law that prevents kidnapping to kidnap a child, we have serious, serious problems,” Ortiz said.

Where's Jean Paul?

A few days after the bus stop incident, Diaz received her son’s cell phone in the mail. The package contained a San Antonio postmark.

When asked where her son and former husband may be, frustration enters Diaz’s voice. Maybe he’s hiding out in San Antonio, or maybe he made his way back to Mexico or France. Since their divorce, Lacombe has married a Russian woman and even could be in Russia, she said.

He has the financial means to go pretty much anywhere, Diaz said.

Recently, she spent a day going door to door in her apartment complex, handing out cookies her son had sold for a Coker Elementary School fundraiser. She paused to cry as she described her son — a soccer fanatic who enjoys robotics and was beginning to excel in his bilingual-education classes.

“He was doing so good here,” Diaz said.

While confident she’ll be reunited with her son, she’s terrified the process could take another two years.

“I came here to be in peace, and I had it for a while,” Diaz said. “I thought the United States was a safe place ... I thought in the United States, nothing like this would happen to me.”

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