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Tuesday, July 11, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Dad to court: Remove girl from shelter

Petition claims child being held illegally, should go back to father


In an unusual move, the father of a 5-year-old girl held more than two years in an emergency shelter has asked a state appeals court to order her immediate release from state custody.

Paul Scott Abbott, whose daughter Ashleigh Danielle Abbott was removed from her father's home by state officials in April 1998, filed a habeas corpus petition Monday before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. The petition claims Ashleigh is being held illegally and should be released back into her father's custody.

Ashleigh currently lives at the Children's Home Society emergency shelter in Broward. Seven different judges have been assigned to hear her case, and Ashleigh as yet has never had a completed hearing to determine whether she should remain a dependent of the state or be returned to her father.

Experts said Monday it is fairly unusual for lawyers to file habeas corpus petitions for children who are alleged to be dependents of the state. Usually, such petitions are filed by jail or prison inmates claiming to be held without due process.

``I've done it before,'' said Professor Claudia Wright, who directs the University of Florida Law School's Juvenile Law Clinic. ``But I think it's unusual.''

Gilbert Perez, who supervises the assistant attorneys general who represent the state in Broward County dependency actions, declined to discuss the case Monday. Eva Koblentz, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, also declined to comment, citing confidentiality.
Paul Abbott, 43, a freelance writer and lay pastor with the Miramar Lutheran Church and the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hollywood, said Monday's petition comes out of near desperation on his part.

``So far, nothing has worked in getting Ashleigh back home,'' Abbott said. ``So now we're praying this is the thing that does get her back home before she starts kindergarten next month.''

Ashleigh was taken by child protective workers with the Florida Department of Children and Families in April 1998. In a petition seeking Ashleigh's designation as a dependent of the state, the agency said Paul Abbott had failed to protect the child from abuse she received during a supervised visitation with her mother.

In a later complaint, the state faulted Abbott for attempting to deprive his ex-wife -- whom caseworkers had repeatedly accused of being abusive -- of visitations.

State law requires that children held in emergency shelter receive a hearing within 30 days, said Bernard Perlmutter, director of the University of Miami's Children and Youth Law Clinic. While it's common for children to remain in emergency shelters much longer than that, Perlmutter said, most children have received a hearing within two years.

``Clearly,'' Perlmutter said, ``to keep children as hostages of the state in shelter care can be a means of circumventing the requirements of expedited adjudication and case planning that takes place so that children have a sense of permanency in their lives and know they will be reunited with their parents or be free for adoption.

``So this is intolerable,'' Perlmutter said, ``though not atypical. This may be an extreme example of what we see.''

Copyright Miami Herald

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