Guardian knows best? A twist in Elian's case
A judge is weighing whether to have an outside guardian - not the father - speak for the boy.
Just when you thought it was over - it isn't. In a little-noticed move, a judge is setting the stage for what may become yet another major plot twist in the mushrooming saga of the six-year-old boy from Cuba.Skip to next paragraph
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Judge James Edmondson of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to appoint an independent "guardian ad litem" to represent Elian Gonzalez - a move that in theory could ultimately result in Elian's removal from his father's custody and send him back to his Miami relatives.
While such an outcome is unlikely, analysts say, it is not without precedent.
The action comes in the wake of a controversial predawn raid last Saturday in which armed federal agents wrested custody of the boy from his Miami relatives and reunited him with his father here in Washington.
But now Judge Edmondson, who is among three judges slated to hear Elian's case on May 11, is considering whether to appoint someone else to look after Elian's interests.
Earlier this week, the judge ordered Justice Department lawyers to "explain why the court should not now appoint someone, acting as a friend-of-the-court and special guardian ad litem, to report to the court directly on [Elian's] condition and care as well as the circumstances of his present custody."
A guardian ad litem is appointed by a judge for the sole purpose of deciding what is in the best interests of a child. The determinations are made regardless of any interests of the father, other relatives, the Cuban government, or even the US government.
Initially, the guardian ad litem would likely examine whether Elian has been subject to any pressure by his father or Cuban officials to withdraw the application filed on his behalf seeking political asylum in the United States.
"This is a young child who is obviously very impressionable and easily influenced," says Stanley Watson of the Alabama Policy Institute in Birmingham, who has been following the case.
"I think the court wants to ensure that the father is not attempting to influence him into withdrawing his earlier request for asylum."
Mr. Watson says, "Any person who looks at this with an informed sense of the way things operate in Cuba would be concerned that Elian's father would come under pressure from Cuban officials and would feel compelled to try to dissuade Elian from pursuing an application for asylum."
Experts say a guardian ad litem could examine the full range of issues raised in Elian's case, including the circumstances surrounding the controversial home video, produced by his Miami relatives, that showed Elian telling his dad that he didn't want to go back to Cuba.
In addition, a guardian ad litem could determine whether it is in Elian's best interest to remain in his father's custody while the appeals in his case are pending, whether he should be returned to his Miami relatives, or even if he should be placed with a third party.