TULSA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation will argue that tribal sovereignty makes it immune from a request for $1 million in legal fees in a custody battle over a 4-year-old girl, according to a tribal assistant attorney general.
Attorneys representing Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina filed the request in Oklahoma courts for legal fees in the custody dispute over 4-year-old Veronica. The Capobiancos have custody after Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, dropped all legal proceedings.
The request sought the fees from Brown and his tribe, the Cherokee Nation. The move shocked Cherokee officials, said Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo, who led the tribe’s effort to keep Veronica with her Cherokee family.
“It seems to be a warning to fathers and to tribes,” Nimmo said. “’Don’t fight for your children, or we will ruin you financially.’?”
Veronica had been the subject of court battles since she was born to a non-Cherokee mother, who put the girl up for adoption. The Capobiancos had been lined up to receive custody since 2009.
In September, Brown handed Veronica over to the Capobiancos after the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted an emergency stay keeping the girl in Oklahoma.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” Nimmo said. “We believed all parties when they said they would make an effort to move on and heal.”
But an attorney for the Capobiancos, Lori Alvino McGill, told the Tulsa World that the request for fees was appropriate. The legal team worked pro bono and didn’t charge the Capobiancos for their services, she said.
“Attorneys are entitled to get their fees and expenses associated with successfully enforcing a custody order,” she said. “So the Capobiancos’ attorneys can seek their fees/expenses associated with having to chase Brown around to enforce the South Carolina orders.”
The Browns have not commented on the request for fees.