Tribal court affirms ruling in custody battle

Mashantucket, Connecticut (AP) 6-08

A tribal court has upheld the child custody rights of the chairman of the Indian tribe that runs Foxwoods Resort Casino, but granted some visitation rights to the child’s mother, the chairman’s attorney says.

The June 11 rulings came after a family court judge in New York issued an arrest warrant for Michael Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, because Thomas failed to turn over his 4-year-old daughter to her mother.

The girl’s mother, Vanessa Hyman of New Rochelle, N.Y., said Thomas took the child for a routine visit May 17 and was supposed to return her the next day, but did not.

Linda Mariani, Thomas’ attorney, said the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court granted Thomas custody of his daughter in February. Thomas has hired a New York attorney to try to have the Westchester County Family Court judge’s orders vacated.

Mariani said Tribal Court Judge Thomas Londregan on June 11 continued the court’s previous order, which gave Thomas physical custody of his daughter. According to Mariani, Londregan also ordered that any visitation by Hyman be done under the supervision of Child Protective Services, and that Hyman undergo a psychological evaluation.

Londregan also ordered that Hyman be allowed to speak with her daughter on the phone nightly.

Thomas’ attorneys argue that the New York courts do not have jurisdiction in the case. His attorneys cite a New York Supreme Court ruling issued in January 2007 that upheld the tribal court custody order granting Thomas sole legal and physical custody of the girl.

Joshua Katz, the attorney representing Hyman, said it is impossible for his client to get a fair trial in the tribal court, given Thomas’ standing within the tribe, so she turned to the New York family court.

Hyman said there are “no grounds for me to have a psychological evaluation.”

Thomas, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, expressed frustration at the events of the week, but said he is determined to fight on.

“I will continue to take every step available to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of my daughter,” he said.