With a Brazilian Supreme Court ruling on the custody of a 9-year-old New Jersey boy imminent, the boy’s father, David Goldman, maintained an agonizing vigil in Rio de Janeiro while a legal adviser to the boy’s Brazilian family filed a new appeal and denied a published report that the family had offered a deal to Goldman.
In Brazil Tuesday afternoon, NBC’s Jeff Rossen spoke with a lawyer for the Brazilian family who have waged a five-year legal battle for custody of Sean Goldman. Asked if he would comply if Brazil’s supreme court ruled that Sean be immediately returned to the U.S., attorney Sergio Tostes said: “I will read the decision and decide our next move.
“At the end of the line, if the final decision was to return the boy, we would,” Tostes added. “But we are far from the end of the line.” He confirmed that filed a new appeal today, trying to overturn the federal appeals court decision to return Sean.
Tostes also told Rossen that Sean is in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian family right now, and accused David Goldman and Rep. Chris Smith, the New Jersey congressman who accompanied the New Jersey dad to Rio for the latest chapter in his five-year custody battle, of trying to turn it into a political issue, which Tostes called a “very serious mistake.”
Deal or no deal?
Tostes’ remarks were the latest developments in a dramatic day in Goldman’s long ordeal, one that seemed to begin with the hope of a happy conclusion before Christmas. According to NBC correspondent Benita Noel in Rio, a reputable Brazilian newspaper reported Tuesday that the maternal grandmother of Sean Goldman, Silvana Bianchi, was willing to turn Sean over to his dad, David Goldman, if she could accompany the boy on the plane back to New Jersey. But a release from attorney Tostes said that the reported offer of a deal “derives from misunderstanding” and was “unfounded.”
“At this stage, the family is not considering anything other than waiting for the decision by the Chief Justice,” the release from Tostes read in part. “Any information that the family lawyers have recommended that, in case the Writ should be granted and in the off possibility no further remedies exists, Ms. Silvana Bianchi traveled to the United States with Sean, derives from misunderstanding and is, therefore, unfounded.”
Waiting anxiously in Rio for the expected Supreme Court ruling, David Goldman told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday that Sean’s Brazilian family made the suggested offer through a newspaper and did not contact either him or his attorney. When Vieira asked him if he would agree to let the grandmother accompany Sean, Goldman said, “We have to see the exact parameters. I can’t speculate on something that is hypothetical.”
Goldman was accompanied by Rep. Smith, who has been closely following the custody case that has become an international controversy involving the presidents of both the United States and Brazil.
Smith said the credibility of the Brazilian courts is at stake. After years of delays in lower courts, the direct intervention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama helped move the case into the Brazilian federal courts early this year. There, two rulings sided strongly with Goldman’s parental rights and international law under the Hague Treaty. That law upholds the rights of natural parents in such cases.
A Brazilian appellate court ruled unanimously last week that Sean should be handed over to his father immediately, but a single Supreme Court justice blocked the handover, suggesting that Sean’s wishes be taken into consideration.
Although the Supreme Court has adjourned until February for the holidays, the Chief Justice was to rule Tuesday on whether to order Sean turned over to his father immediately.
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Timeline: Brazil custody battleAn official at the Supreme Court said the ruling by Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes, which had been expected Monday, would be made Tuesday.
The official, who agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because she was not authorized to discuss the case, gave no reason for the delay.
The wait was agonizing for David Goldman, who has pledged to fight for his son Sean as long as it takes.
“I remain hopeful and I pray that this will come to an end,” Goldman said on TODAY Monday.
Mendes will rule on appeals made by Goldman and Brazil’s attorney general seeking to lift a stay on a lower court’s order that Sean be handed over to his father.
If Mendes lifts the stay, lawyers in both camps said Sean’s Brazilian relatives could still appeal to the nation’s highest appeals court — but it was questionable whether that court would be willing to review the case if the Supreme Court backs a lower federal court ruling awarding custody to Goldman.
New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, in Brazil to support Goldman, expressed optimism ahead of the ruling.
“I think it is only a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if,’ and we are hoping that the abductors will convey this young boy ... as soon as the chief justice renders his decision,” the congressman said.
Goldman, 42, launched his case in U.S. and Brazilian courts after Sean was brought by his mother in 2004 to her native Brazil, where she then divorced Goldman and remarried. She died last year in childbirth, and the boy has lived with his stepfather since.
The lawyer for the boy’s Brazilian family offered to negotiate a settlement, and the family also invited Goldman to spend Christmas with them. Goldman did not say whether he would accept the invitation if the case was not resolved this week.
Asked if Sean’s Brazilian family would be able to visit the boy, Goldman said yes. “I will not do to them what they’ve done to Sean and me,” he said.
Senator blocks trade deal
The case has affected diplomatic ties between Brazil and the U.S., reaching talks between President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. A U.S. senator, reacting to the case, has blocked the renewal of a $2.75 billion trade deal that would lift tariffs on some Brazilian exports.
The U.S. State Department pressed for the boy to be returned. But a Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Thursday stayed a lower court decision ordering Sean to be turned over to his father.
Goldman and Brazil’s attorney general both filed appeals Friday asking the Supreme Court to overturn the justice’s decision to block Sean’s return while the court considers hearing direct testimony from the boy.
The Brazilian family’s lawyer, Sergio Tostes, told the AP he would like to see a negotiated settlement, saying he wanted to end the damage being done to Sean and to U.S.-Brazil relations.
“We’re raising the white flag and saying: ‘Let’s get together, let’s talk. We’re the adults, we have responsibilities, so let’s start to have a constructive conversation,’ ” Tostes said.
Goldman, however, was in no mood to negotiate.
“This isn’t about a shared custody — I’m his dad, I’m his only parent,” Goldman said. “This isn’t a custody case — it’s an abduction case.”
— Mike Celizic, with additional reporting by The Associated Press
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