THE RESPONSE OF THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATIONOn May 8, 1998, Laura Hong and Senator Mike DeWine's Legislative Director, Robert Hoffman, met with Scott Busby, Director of the National Security Council's Office of Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Affairs. The meeting was held at the direction of President Clinton in response to the pleas of Mei Mei's supporters. From the time of that meeting and to the present day, the National Security Council has been establishing the agenda for the June 1998 summit between President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin of China.
Though Mr. Busby indicated an appreciation and concern for Mei Mei's plight, he stated that Senior Director Eric Schwartz would have to be convinced that Mei Mei's case is sufficiently important to warrant the President's involvement during the summit. Mr. Busby requested a memorandum explaining why the President should request Mei Mei's return. The arguments for involving President Clinton were marshalled in the requested memorandum, portions of which can be found on the page of Recent Developments.
THE RESPONSE OF CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSThirty-five U.S. Senators -- more than a third of that body -- and six Representatives have requested Mei Mei's return home. 21 of these Senators requested that President Clinton seek Mei Mei's return when Chinese President Jiang Zemin was in the United States in October, 1997. Because the National Security Council indicated that this request came "too late," several of the signatory Senators have renewed their request in advance of the summit scheduled for June, 1998. Several Representatives have also renewed their own earlier requests to President Clinton. Further details about the response of Congressional leaders can be found on the page of Recent Developments.
COURT RULINGSOn November 1, 1996, the Court of Appeals for Cuyahoga County, Ohio granted Laura Hong's petition for writ of habeas corpus, and commanded Sue Chen to bring Mei Mei before it. The office of the County Prosecutor and attorneys for Chen opposed the granting of the petition. Chen appealed the decision of the Court of Appeals, and the Prosecutor sought to vacate the writ. Chen's appeal was dismissed by the Ohio Supreme Court, as was a request for a stay of execution of the writ. The Ohio Supreme Court mandated the Appeals Court proceed with execution of the writ. Courts at every level in Ohio have now commanded Mei Mei's return.
Though foster parents are rarely permitted to intervene in court actions regarding their foster children, on January 24, 1997, Judge Corrigan of the Juvenile Court recognized that the outrageous facts of this case required a different result. The Judge allowed Laura Hong to become an official party in the juvenile court action. The intervention was strenuously opposed by lawyers for the Agency and for Chen.
Over the objections of the attorneys for the Agency and for Chen, on December 13, 1996, the Juvenile Court Division of the Cuyahoga County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas issued an order that Mei Mei be returned to Cleveland "immediately" and finding "that the child has been unlawfully and in violation of this Court's orders removed by the mother from the jurisdiction." The Court also "further ordered that every effort is to be made to facilitate and ensure the child's safe return." That order also states unequivocally that Laura Hong and Tom Kovach are the physical custodians of Mei Mei. A copy of the one-page December 13 Order of the Juvenile Court appears on a separate page.
By spring of 1997, several motions were pending before the Juvenile Court. The Agency, having evidently concluded that it would serve the interests of the Agency for Mei Mei to remain in China, moved for termination of County custody, which would have returned custody to Sue Chen in spite of her kidnapping and the earlier conclusion of the Agency and the Juvenile Court Diagnostic Clinic that Sue Chen was not a fit parent. The Guardian ad litem for Mei Mei, an attorney appointed by the Court to represent her best interests, moved that the County take permanent custody of Mei Mei, which would have terminated the vestigial parental rights of Sue Chen. Laura Hong, as an intervenor in the case, moved for termination of Chen's parental rights and for legal custody of Mei Mei. Chen was served all the relevant pleadings in China, and was represented by her own Guardian ad litem, a Cleveland attorney. After a three-day trial in April 1997, the Juvenile Court rendered its judgment in its June 26, 1997 order.
By clear and convincing evidence, the Juvenile Court found that it was in Mei Mei's best interests that the parental rights of Sue Chen be terminated; that Chen had failed to substantially remedy the conditions that caused Mei Mei to be removed from her home; that Chen suffers from a chronic mental illness that makes her unable to provide the an adequate permanent home for the child; that Chen had caused Mei Mei to suffer serious emotional harm by abducting her from her home and from Laura and Tom, to whom she had grown psychologically bonded; that Chen had violated the Court's orders by abducting the child; and that Chen continued to violate the Court's orders by refusing to return the child or to appear before the Court, despite having been commanded to do so. The Court granted the motion of Laura Hong, terminating the parental rights of Sue Chen and of the County and awarding legal custody of Mei Mei to Laura. The Court further ordered that a warrant for the arrest of Sue Ping Chen be issued.
THE RESPONSE OF THE COUNTY PROSECUTORSoon after Mei Mei's kidnapping, Laura Hong met with First Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Carmen Marino, the head of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Criminal Division. Marino also met with a wealthy Cleveland restaurateur, Sue Chen's former employer and landlady, who had been and continues to be a vocal advocate for Chen -- even to the extent of maligning the motives of Laura Hong and Tom Kovach in the press. Shortly after this second meeting, Marino telephoned Laura Hong and told her that he believed Mei Mei "looks Chinese" and belongs "in China." Shortly thereafter, unbeknownst to other law enforcement officials genuinely concerned for Mei Mei's welfare, Marino caused the kidnapping warrant against Chen to be withdrawn. Since that time, the office of the County Prosecutor has opposed all efforts to return Mei Mei to her home.
THE RESPONSE OF THE U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENTAbout forty nations have signed a Hague Convention on parental kidnapping. The People's Republic of China, however, is not a signatory to this treaty. In order to help children who are abducted by a non-custodial parent and taken to non-signatory nations, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the International Parental Kidnapping Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1204. Under this law, federal authorities in the U.S. are empowered to issue federal indictments against kidnapping parents. The main purpose of this statute is to facilitate diplomatic efforts to recover kidnapped children from non-signatory nations.
Officials in China have indicated a willingness to cooperate in this matter. They have stated that a warrant for Sue Chen pursuant to an indictment under the International Parental Kidnapping Act would facilitate Mei Mei's return. The U.S. State Department, Office of Children's Issues, agrees that a warrant is critical. Such a warrant is ordinarily issued as a matter of course in parental kidnapping cases.
Despite the court rulings cited above, which unanimously support the return of Mei Mei, and despite the fact that Mei Mei's abduction was a clear and unambiguous violation of the International Parental Kidnapping Act signed into law by this Administration, the Justice Department has declined to issue the appropriate indictment. Despite the straightforwardness of the facts in the case, the Cleveland U.S. Attorney held the case "under investigation" for more than a year after the kidnapping before announcing its decision not to issue the appropriate indictment. Yet at no time during that yearlong "investigation" did the U.S. Attorney ever interview Laura Hong or Tom Kovach, or even speak to Laura Hong, both of whom offered their full cooperation to the U.S. Attorney in writing on several occasions.
THE RESPONSE OF THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENTThe State Department has taken the position that it cannot press for Mei Mei's return without an indictment by the U.S. Attorney under the International Parental Kidnapping Act. The logical consequence flowing from this premise is that the actions of the Secretary of State are circumscribed by the decisions of an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland. Despite the patent absurdity of this logic, the State Department did not change its position, even after the Juvenile Court gave Laura Hong full legal custody of Mei Mei. The State Department continues to hold this matter "under investigation."
Other officials who have taken in interest in this case have expressed their belief that the Chinese government would be willing to cooperate with a formal request from the U.S. government, and that the Secretary of State is in a position to make such a request regardless of the inaction of the U.S. Attorney. Although many U.S. Senators and Representatives have expressed their concern about this case to the Secretary of State, the State Department has yet to make a formal request for Mei Mei's return.
To bring Mei Mei home, Laura and Tom need your help. Please read the next page to find out What You Can Do.
CONTACT INFORMATION: LAURA HONG TOM KOVACH LAURA HONG Home: (216) 932-8934 (216) 932-8934 4900 Key Tower Or: (216) 397-9596 (216) 397-9596 127 Public Square Work: (216) 479-8554 (216) 479-8714 Cleveland, Ohio 44114-1304 Page: (216) 948-7035 (216) 506-7528 Mobile: (216) 973-2935 firstname.lastname@example.org
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