International Child Abduction Pro Bono Case Poses Unique Challenge for Local Firm

Kelsey Johnson
Photo courtesy of DGS.

By Kelsey Johnson
DAVIS GRAHAM & STUBBS

When a parent leaves home with their child, travels across the world and refuses to return to the home country, the left-behind parent has little recourse to bring their child back home. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty that was created to protect children from international abduction by encouraging the prompt return of wrongfully removed and wrongfully retained children to their home country. The U.S., along with more than one hundred other countries, signed this treaty and promised to help locate abducted children, encourage amicable solutions and facilitate the safe return of children. 

When a parent files an application seeking the return of their child under the Hague Convention, they must learn to navigate a foreign country’s judicial system in a time of desperate need. As attorneys, it’s imperative that we protect our communities and use our profession to help others.  

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Davis Graham & Stubbs took pro bono representation of a Romanian Hague Convention case after DGS Partner Habib Nasrullah received a referral from the Hague Convention Attorney Network. This all-volunteer national attorney network pairs Hague Convention applicant-parents with attorneys across the nation to help resolve international child abduction cases. 

Nasrullah and DGS Associate Kelsey Johnson represented a mother from Romania in this pro bono case under the Hague Convention to bring her one-year-old baby home. After the father brought the couple’s baby to the U.S. and decided not to return home to Romania, the mother immediately filed an application under the Hague Convention to fight for her child’s return home. The case culminated with a full-day evidentiary hearing before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip Brimmer. On Sept. 15, the court ruled in favor of the mother and ordered the immediate return of her baby. 

As a first-year attorney, Johnson expressed gratitude for the experience to litigate in federal court, present an opening statement and conduct multiple direct and cross examinations. “Volunteering to work on this case has allowed me to gain remarkable trial experience and learn from an extraordinary team, including Habib Nasrullah, Steve Winiarski and Robin Anderson,” wrote Johnson. 

“The legal community is especially poised to make a positive impact in these international child abduction cases, and it’s exceedingly fulfilling to help others in this capacity.”  

Winiarski, the paralegal working on this case, noted, “there’s no substitute for that kind of closeness that was taken from her and imagining that moment when she’ll hold her again really drives home the importance of this case and has made my work on it extremely gratifying.” He said, “we seldom get the chance to help restore that immediate emotional connection for people.” 

It was nearly 1 a.m. in Romania when the pro bono legal team at DGS received the court’s decision ordering the return of the baby.  Johnson said, “I knew I had to call the mother immediately because I didn’t want her to sleep another night without knowing when she would see her baby again.”  

“That phone call has been the most rewarding moment of my career. Though I am a newly minted attorney, I believe that phone call will always be one of the most rewarding moments of my career,” Johnson wrote. “This case has inspired me to continue helping others in similar situations and encourage attorneys to get involved in resolving these international child abductions.” 

– Kelsey Johnson is an associate at DGS with a practice focusing on the energy industry.

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