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In the News

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Burton pulls controversial child-custody legislation

By David M. Drucker
Sacramento Bureau
L.A. Daily News

SACRAMENTO August 18, 2004 -- Legislation that would gut a California Supreme Court decision granting more equality to divorced fathers in child-custody disputes was yanked by its powerful sponsor Tuesday amid a flurry of opposition.

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton shelved Senate Bill 730, which would have forced judges to ignore the child's "best interest" in cases where the custodial parent -- usually the mother -- wants to move with a child to another city or state.

Burton said the matter should not be rushed through the Legislature this year.

Fathers'-rights activists and family-law experts who believe the child's best interest should trump the custodial parent's hailed the move.

They said SB 730 deserved to die on its merits, and because it was originally prevailing-wage legislation that was hastily rewritten using the "gut-and-amend" process lawmakers typically employ to avoid major opposition.

Burton indicated in a letter to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that he was backing off because he believes SB 730 deserves more deliberation than would be afforded by the remaining 2 weeks of the legislative session.

"I am supportive of taking the time to study the issue further and gather public input during the fall recess before taking further legislative action," Burton, D-San Francisco, wrote.

Fathers' rights advocate Michael Robinson and John Eisendrath, a Los Angeles television writer and one-time executive producer of "Alias" who stands to benefit from the recent Supreme Court decision, lobbied lawmakers last week to oppose SB 730.

Tuesday's Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill was canceled after Burton signaled late Monday he was pulling it.

Burton drafted SB 730 at the behest of women's advocates concerned with the ramifications of an April state Supreme Court decision. The court ruled in favor of Gary LaMusga, who sued to prevent his ex-wife from moving to Ohio with their children on the grounds it was not in their best interest.

LaMusga's ex-wife initiated the move because of her new husband's employment situation, but feminist groups fear the ruling will negatively impact poor, single women who must move away for their financial and even physical well-being.

"We're seriously disappointed in (Burton's) decision to pull this bill. Hopefully it will come back in some other session," said Marci Fukuroda, a staff attorney with the L.A.-based California Women's Law Center.

David M. Drucker, (916) 442-5096

Thursday, August 12, 2004

New legislation would gut decision on fathers' rights

By David M. Drucker
Sacramento Bureau
L.A. Daily News

SACRAMENTO August 12, 2004 -- Divorced fathers elated with a California Supreme Court ruling granting them more equality in child-custody cases are now fighting a hastily written bill that would force judges to favor mothers who want to move away with the children.

John Eisendrath, 45 -- whose ex-wife moved 200 miles north of his Los Angeles home even though a judge said it was not in their two young sons' best interest -- was the first divorced father to benefit from an Supreme Court decision in April that found the child's interest must be considered above the mother's.

But with powerful Democratic Sen. John Burton carrying legislation to negate the legal grounds that made Eisendrath's successful appeal possible, the television writer and one-time executive producer of "Alias" traveled to Sacramento to urge lawmakers and the Schwarzenegger administration to oppose the bill, which is strongly supported by women's advocates.

"What terrifies me ... is that the ink wasn't even dry on a very reasonable, thoughtful, long-awaited and. I think. landmark state Supreme Court decision before legislation was being rushed through the Assembly to gut it," Eisendrath said.

"This is a prime example of 11th-hour legislating that (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) should, on the procedural basis alone, throw out, even if it's without making a judgment on the merits of the issue."

Senate Bill 730 was introduced in February 2003 as legislation dealing with prevailing wages, but was recently rewritten to address child-custody disputes in cases where the divorced custodial parent -- in most cases, the mother -- wants to move to another city or state with the children.

Eisendrath credits the state Supreme Court decision handed down in April with making it possible for his situation to be revisited.

In August 2003, Eisendrath's ex-wife moved to San Luis Obispo with their two sons and her new husband after an appellate court directed a Superior Court judge to overturn his previous ruling denying her right to move. Under the original ruling, she was free to move if she transferred primary custody to Eisendrath.

In June of this year, that same appellate court ruled in Eisendrath's favor and remanded his case to Superior Court, where he expects "the best interests" of his children to be given paramount consideration when it is reconsidered later this month.

Feminist groups like the California Women's Law Center hope that passage of SB 730 heads off judicial rulings like that which occurred when Gary LaMusga sued to prevent his wife from moving their children to Ohio, and what is likely to result in the Eisendrath case thanks to the state Supreme Court's decision.

"Particularly when you're looking at custodial families headed by women, many of them are living in poverty and relocation is vital to their economic well-being," said Marci Fukuroda, of the Los Angeles-based group. "There should be a presumption that custodial families, like other families, can relocate."

SB 730 is scheduled to be heard Aug. 17 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and Burton, D-San Francisco, defended both the bill and the gut-and-amend procedure.

"This bill simply re-establishes the long recognized rights of custodial parents to move in order to take advantage of employment or educational opportunities," Burton's spokesman, Dave Sebeck, said. "The language has been out there for a couple of months and since we're going back to a system that was already in place ... it doesn't seem to require months of debate."

The administration met with Eisendrath and fathers'-rights advocate Michael Robinson on Tuesday, but declined to comment on whether Schwarzenegger -- a Republican -- would sign SB 730 if it passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end in early September, and if the bill fails to gain approval by then, it would have to be re-introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

-- David M. Drucker, (916) 442-5096