Saturday, November 21, 2015

FLORIDA: Secret agreement reached over visits to cut-dispute boy

Sun-Sentinel (Palm Beach, Florida)
September 16, 2015

Parents in circumcision fight appear to settle visitation dispute after judge, attorneys meet privately

by Marc J. Freeman
Heather Hironimus may soon be allowed supervised visits with the son she hid for months this year during her highly publicized battle against his circumcision. But the terms negotiated by attorneys Wednesday were not publicly disclosed after a judge abruptly halted a court hearing and convened private talks.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jessica Ticktin printed copies of the agreement from her computer and distributed them to the attorneys through a courthouse deputy, more than two hours after she began meeting in her chambers with attorneys for the West Boynton mother and Dennis Nebus, father of the nearly 5-year-old boy.

The dialogue continued sometimes with and without the judge, who did not return to the bench to adjourn court after Hironimus and Nebus signed the pact. Hironimus has been seeking a reunion with her child for the first time since mid-May. The Boca Raton father has had temporary full custody.

Judge Ticktin did not return a call to the Sun Sentinel from a message left with her assistant, and the attorneys hurried past a reporter without commenting on what happened in place of an advertised, three-hour public court hearing. The official online court docket for the case did not show the agreement had been posted Wednesday night.

It was the latest twist in a battle that generated international headlines after Hironimus violated family court orders and fled with the boy to a Broward domestic violence shelter for about three months, until she was arrested and jailed for nine days.

She became the champion of circumcision opposition groups, after she decided to fight the procedure she agreed to in a 2012 parenting plan.

Wednesday's hearing began as expected, with Hironimus watching her attorney, Brian M. Moskowitz, arguing for her to visit with her son at a neutral site, a Delray Beach family center, with an off-duty cop watching at her expense.

"A mom has the absolute right to see her child as long as she abides by the law," the attorney said. He promised she will behave, because a violation could void a deal resolving her separate criminal case concerning an interference with custody charge and land her back in Palm Beach County Jail.

Hironimus, who signed a consent to the circumcision in May, "has no idea if her son has been circumcised," Moskowitz said of the procedure.

May L. Cain, attorney for Nebus, only said her client has been stymied each time he has tried to schedule the medical procedure, because of threats and intimidation from "crazy groups." [The only threats have been of legal action. It's not a medical procedure. The boy has no symptoms and no diagnosis.]
"Some of them call themselves intactivists," she told the judge.

Still, Nebus is agreeable to Hironimus being a part of her son's life if security precautions — including at least one deputy in the room along with a "parenting coordinator" — are put in place, Cain said.

"We're still afraid these groups are going to abduct this child," she said. "My client's main concern is to keep the parties' son safe."

His ground rules: The mother doesn't say a word about circumcision to the boy; she gets one, one-hour visit per week; and no photography will be allowed during the visits.

"We feel those photos will end up online somehow," Cain said, noting that in the past the child's maternal grandmother was responsible for leaking the "most private details of the child's life" on the Internet.

Nebus' hesitation is a result of the protracted circumcision battle and a lack of trust when it comes to Hironimus considering how she first tried to get state courts to block the surgery and then fled with the boy.

"The mother told the child the father was dead," Cain told the judge. "This is not," the attorney explained, "your normal run-of-the-mill case."

Both attorneys had announced they were calling several witnesses, including Hironimus and Nebus.
Judge Ticktin then said, "Counsel, why don't we take five minutes?" and called Cain and Moskowitz back to her chambers.

That left Nebus, 48, and Hironimus, 31, sitting in awkward silence, alone at opposing tables, for more than 45 minutes until their attorneys emerged without the judge.

The back-and-forth negotiations in the judge's chambers continued without explanation. Hironimus' criminal defense attorney, Richard Tendler, also joined some of the talks.

Hironimus appeared to be pleased upon signing the agreement, totally different from the scene that played out at the same table on May 23, when she cried and shook while signing a circumcision consent form.

On July 16, her criminal case was resolved as well, with a pretrial intervention agreement. Hironimus was not required to plead guilty, but she admitted "responsibility for interfering with a lawful custody order."

She's required to undergo a mental health evaluation and finish all recommended treatment; submit to random drug testing; and check in with a probation officer once a month. [Shouldn't Nebus, who has repeatedly and at length tried to force unnecessary surgery on the boy, be undergoing a mental health evaluation?]
The State Attorney's Office will drop the felony count in one year if Hironimus successfully meets the requirements, including the completion of a four-hour parenting course. If she fails, she could once again face prosecution and a maximum punishment of five years in prison for a conviction.


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