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Published: Thursday, 10/24/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

OTTAWA COUNTY CASE

Teen girl seeks a seat in custody litigation

17-year-old asserts right to be present

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — An Ottawa County girl caught up for more than a decade in her parents’ custody battles asked the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday to let her be involved in legal proceedings that will be used to determine her fate.

Amelia Garmyn, now 17, argues she had a constitutional right to be present in the courtroom as her father’s motion for unsupervised visitation was decided.

Ottawa County Juvenile Court had denied her request and granted visitation, a decision later upheld on appeal by the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals. That decision, however, was placed on hold pending this appeal.

The case was among three argued in a Bucyrus school theater as part of the high court’s occasional road sessions outside Columbus.

Any decision at this stage is unlikely to have any impact on Amelia Garmyn.

She may turn 18 and legally become an adult before the court’s decision is rendered.

And her father’s Wauseon attorney, Timothy Hallett, noted that his client, Patrick Garmyn, later signed away his parental rights, making the case moot for him.

But Amelia’s Port Clinton attorney, Howard Whitcomb, urged the Supreme Court to declare a constitutional right for minors in future similar cases.

He noted that he represented Amelia during five days of testimony.

“I will be honest in telling you I was handicapped by not having a client there to spontaneously provide any comments, write down any questions, and be able to review exhibits instantaneously as they’re being presented,” he said. “Therefore, I think that my representation, while it might have been zealous, was probably not as good as it could have been.”

The parents of Amelia, who has dual Russian and American citizenship, divorced in 2001 when she was 5 years old.

Before that, while divorce proceedings were pending at the time in Henry County, the girl’s Russian mother, Lolita Garmyn, took her to Moscow, but they eventually returned to the United States. Soon after, her father took off with Amelia, traveling among multiple states for six months, using false identities, and at one point going to Costa Rica before they were discovered in Florida.

Her father pleaded in 1999 to a misdemeanor charge of attempted interference with custody and was given a suspended sentence.

Alleging domestic violence, Amelia’s mother again took her to Moscow after the divorce was granted.

According to court documents, Amelia, then 6, was abducted from her grandmother’s Moscow home and taken via Ukraine to Paris, where she was reunited with her father. When they returned to the United States, authorities returned the girl to her mother, who had also returned.

“When we say things were bad between these parents, that’s an understatement,” Justice Paul Pfeifer said.

Supervised visits with Amelia’s American father eventually resumed after their return to Ottawa County, to which the custody case was transferred.

Her father in 2009 requested unsupervised visitation at his North Carolina home.

Although she testified as a witness in the proceedings, Amelia wanted to be a fully recognized party with her own seat at the table.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor questioned whether keeping Amelia out of the courtroom protected her.

“She was intimately involved in each step of the process, having been the pawn that was back and forth between the parents from Russia, to the Keys, to out west,” she said. “She was privy to it all because she was a participant in it all.”

However, the father’s attorney, Mr. Hallett, cautioned against the recognition of such a “constitutional entitlement” for minors caught up in divorce and custody proceedings.

“In so many other cases, to have the child present, to have the child a participant could be extremely harmful,” he said. “In my 40 years of practice, we tried to keep children out of the courtroom.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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