Monday, September 17, 2007
What Were They Thinking?: Cuban Custody Battle
For weeks now, Seven's Patrick Fraser has been working on a new investigative series: tracking where all of your tax dollars are being spent. One agency he had his eye on already was the Department of Children and Families. You won't believe how many lawyers they have working to keep a father from taking his daughter back to Cuba. Here tonight, our first installment of What Were They Thinking?
WSVN -- On one side, a father who is trying to take his daughter back to Cuba. He is represented by two lawyers who are working for free.
Rafael Izquierdo: "I want my daughter. I love my daughter."
On the other side, the Department of Children and Families, who claims when the father let the mother bring the girl to South Florida he abandoned the child and should lose her.
Judge: "The question is easy, and I have asked it twice, and he has refused to answer it."
The case is controversial and contentious.
Judge: "Was that because she thought you were cheating on her?"
And then we get to the cost.
Patrick Fraser: "Here are the documents we obtained from DCF. As of today, they estimate they have spent $135,000 trying to keep Rafael Izquierdo from taking his 5-year-old back to Cuba and most of that money has been spent on lawyers.
Take a look at this, DCF has 21 lawyers working on the Cuban girl case. Five are called "dedicated," meaning they are spending most of their time on the case. Look at the number of hours they have spent on the case. That's before it even got to trial.
Now look at the annual salaries those lawyers are being paid by tax payers, and those five lawyers have plenty of backups supplied by taxpayer dollars, 16 attorneys assisting to bring the total to 21 taxpayer-funded lawyers.
Patrick Fraser: "There's the number of hours they put in before the trial started."
We showed the documents to Ira Kurzban who is facing the 21 lawyers.
Ira Kurzban: "It's shocking and staggering that they would spend this kind of money and put this kind of manpower towards simply keeping a dad who's never abused this child, never neglected the child, never did anything wrong, keeping the child from her father."
DCF thinks it's fine to put this many lawyers and this much money into the case.
Patrick Fraser: "Would that money be better spent somewhere else?"
Flora Beal: "Certainly there are many areas in which we can use much more resources. However, the way we see it, is there's the best interest of a child, and how do we put the best interest of one child above the best interest of another child? Simply because of the expense that we need to put into it. We just can't do that kind of decision-making."
And dedicating an enormous amount of money to a single case is not unusual for DCF.
Doug Brawley: "Sounds like that could be a recipe for a lot of waste."
Doug Brawley has battled DCF to get help for the mentally ill. He says the money they spend on lawyers would sometimes have paid for the care.
Doug Brawley: "There may be more efficient ways to spend our money because, at the end of the day, it's our money. It's taxpayers' money."
Kurzban says it's clear why DCF is fighting so hard to keep this child away from her father in Cuba.
Ira Kurzban: "And the answer is simple. This is just about a child from Cuba. If this child were from Haiti or from the Dominican Republic or anywhere else there's no question but that the child would have been back with her dad."
But DCF denies there was any political pressure put on the agency to win this case.
Flora Beal: "This is a dependency case. This is not a custody case, and it certainly isn't a political issue."
Patrick Fraser: "What were they thinking when they put all this money and lawyers into the case? According to DCF, it's not about the cash, it's about the kid."
For more information of if you have an idea for this new series:
What were they thinking?