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About a month after Isidoro Rodriguez-Hazbun came to visit his father in Northern Virginia, he sent a fax to his mother in Colombia. “Mommy, I love you much and you know that I am always going to love you and to be your son, but now I want to spend time with my dad,” the 12-year-old wrote in Spanish in the summer of 2001, explaining how he could get a better education in the United States and how it was safer living in Virginia than in Colombia. “Besides,” he continued, “I am growing into a man and let’s accept you are not [a] man.” That was nearly two years ago. Amalin Hazbun has since been reunited with her son, but the family’s international custody battle is far from over. A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the boy’s father, 57-year-old Virginia lawyer Isidoro Rodriguez, had no custody rights in the United States because an existing court order in Colombia gave the mother primary custody. The judge based his ruling on the Hague Convention, an international treaty signed by both the United States and Colombia. But Rodriguez claims his son, an American citizen, has a constitutional right to live in the United States — a right he says trumps the treaty. He also says his son is at risk of being kidnapped or killed while being forced to live in Colombia. He says similar fears of personal safety have prevented him from litigating the matter there. After losing an appeal in the 4th Circuit, Rodriguez is waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case. In the meantime, the former Reagan administration official has tried another strategy to get his son back. In January, he filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the lawyers who worked to return his son to Colombia, alleging that they conspired to violate his and his son’s constitutional rights. Those defendants include the U.S. State Department, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the center’s outside law firms, Proskauer Rose and Miles & Stockbridge. Rodriguez also claims he and his son were discriminated against because they are Hispanic. “I’m not going to let my son languish in Colombia,” says Rodriguez, who is seeking $4 million in damages. Last week, Rodriguez filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, asking that the court order his son’s immediate return to the United States and require the State Department to protect his son in the interim. Rodriguez is also trying — unsuccessfully, thus far — to get the federal court to include his son as a named plaintiff in the civil case. Lawyers for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have filed a motion to dismiss. “We don’t believe this case has any merit,” says D. Jean Veta, the Covington & Burling partner representing the nonprofit group and the nine other private defendants including the law firms. Rodriguez, says Veta, unsuccessfully litigated “most, if not all” of the issues in the D.C. suit earlier before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina Braswell is representing the State Department and at least five other named government defendants. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declines comment. International family law experts say Rodriguez’s suit is unlikely to succeed. Adair Dyer, a former deputy secretary general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, says he has never heard of such a challenge against the Hague Convention. Dyer, now in private practice in Austin, Texas, adds that the Hague Convention, approved by Congress and ratified by the president in 1988, has protections to ensure that the rights of parents and children are not violated. “I personally think it would be very difficult to make a successful challenge to the constitutionality of the convention,” says Dyer. Judge Richard Roberts, who is presiding over the D.C. case, has not scheduled a hearing. As for Hazbun, the lengths to which her ex-husband has gone to claim their son comes as no surprise. “I don’t think he’s a bad father,” Hazbun said in an interview with Legal Times that was translated from Spanish. “I don’t think he’s ever abused his son. I’ve never said he doesn’t love his son. It’s only that he hates me more, and that makes him do absurd things.” Rodriguez knows controversy. In 1983, he was pressured to resign from his job as director of minority affairs in the U.S. Agriculture Department after he wrote an internal memo proposing that his agency take the lead in scaling back minority hiring and civil rights enforcement, according to several news reports at the time. Rodriguez’s proposal became public when President Ronald Reagan, who was not aware of the memo, was asked about it during a press conference. Rodriguez says in a motion filed in the current case that he was fired for having the “political courage and concern for the direction of our country in confronting the abuses in race base [sic] programs.” (A year earlier, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld a D.C. agency decision that Rodriguez improperly claimed $1,267 in unemployment benefits from the D.C. government in 1980.) Rodriguez says he began working in Colombia in 1983 as an in-house lawyer to a U.S. construction company doing business in the northern coastal city of Barranquilla. It was there that he met Amalin Hazbun, an optometrist living in Barranquilla. The two married in 1988. At the time, it was Hazbun’s second marriage and Rodriguez’s third. Their son, also named Isidoro, was born in March 1989. Rodriguez, who by that time was working full time in Colombia, secured U.S. citizenship for his son. The family lived in Barranquilla with Hazbun’s two teen-age daughters from an earlier marriage. In 1995, Rodriguez returned to the United States to argue a case before the Supreme Court. The case involved an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration who was in a car accident that injured three Colombians. The question being litigated was whether those victims could sue the individual agent in U.S. federal court. The U.S. government claimed immunity on behalf the DEA agent. In a 5-4 decision, Rodriguez, who represented the plaintiffs, won. Around the same time, Rodriguez and Hazbun’s marriage began to fall apart, according to court papers in the custody case. They separated in 1996 and divorced less than a year later. A custody agreement was filed with the Colombian family court in 1997, stating that Isidoro would live with Hazbun and that Rodriguez would have regular visitation rights and other responsibilities. A subsequent judicial order clarified that Hazbun had formal custody of Isidoro. In 1999, Rodriguez moved back to Virginia. He says he came back to help with Republican Party campaigns, but he adds that threats made against him in Colombia were part of the reason for his return. Hazbun allowed Isidoro to visit his father in the United States twice in 2000. That same year, Rodriguez married his legal assistant, Irene, a Colombian lawyer. (The two had a child — a boy — in December 2002.) Rodriguez says Isidoro told him on several occasions that he wanted to live in the United States. At that point, Rodriguez says, his son activated his rights as a U.S. citizen to remain in America, and, he argues, no court had the right to send him back. “I wanted my son to grow up and love this country,” Rodriguez says, “and show him what a wonderful country we have because of the Constitution.” Isidoro was at the tail end of a month-long visit in 2001 when Hazbun received the fax declaring his intention to remain in the United States. That same day, Rodriguez filed for custody in Fairfax County Court. “He didn’t have the delicacy or the heart to pick up the phone and say to my son, ‘Let’s call your mother and tell her what we’re doing,’ ” said Hazbun. “ I was confronted with a horrible situation — another country, a different language. “I was crying,” Hazbun added. “I was destroyed.” Hazbun turned to the family services agency in her hometown for help. She filed a Hague Convention application in Colombia. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which processes all Hague Convention applications for the U.S. government, reviewed her case and found Virginia family lawyer Patrick Stiehm to represent her pro bono. Hazbun sued Rodriguez in federal court in Virginia in December 2001. A six-day bench trial was held before Judge Ellis in April 2002. Rodriguez argued that the custody order in Colombia was no good because the courts were corrupt. He also said the Fairfax custody action should be dealt with before the Hague matter. At trial, Rodriguez claimed that Isidoro would be in danger of being kidnapped or killed by Rodriguez’s enemies if returned to Colombia. One of the witnesses was the younger Isidoro, who testified that he would like to spend alternate years with his parents, according to court records. Judge Ellis found in favor of Hazbun, concluding that there was no evidence Isidoro was in any particular danger. Most important, the judge decided that Isidoro was not mature enough to decide where he should live. “Indeed, some of his statements regarding reasons for staying in the United States appear to be the product of suggestion, echoing the preferences of his father,” Ellis wrote in his May 6 decision. Rodriguez tried to stay the order pending appeal, but was denied. In July 2002, Isidoro returned to Barranquilla. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld Ellis’ order, finding that “the proceedings in district court did not violate either Rodriguez’s or Isidoro’s rights.” In February, Rodriguez petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court — that request is pending. Last month, Judge Roberts denied Rodriguez’s request to represent his son in the civil case, ruling that Isidoro, now 14, would need independent counsel. M. Blair Sibley, a business partner of Rodriguez’s, has now moved to represent Isidoro, though the defendants have asked that he, too, be blocked from doing so. In the D.C. case, Rodriguez argues that he and his son were discriminated against because they are Hispanic. When asked how that could happen when Isidoro’s mother is also Hispanic, Rodriguez replies, “Do you think they would send an O’Reilly or a Sibley back to Colombia?”

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