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A judge’s order barring a divorced mother from letting her children associate with a “confessed lesbian” family friend appeared to set up a spirited oral argument at the Georgia Supreme Court Monday. But when no one appeared to present the case of the father, who had opposed the mother’s relationship with the woman, the argument lasted a mere six minutes. Explaining why he stopped nine minutes before his time expired, David A. Webster, the mother’s lawyer, said, “It wasn’t worth wasting the justices’ time.” Arnold v. Arnold, No. S02A1020 (Sup. Ct. Ga. arg’d June 17, 2002). The only question came from Justice George H. Carley, who asked Webster whether the court’s 2001 decision in Brandenburg v. Brandenburg, 274, Ga. 183, controlled the outcome of the mother’s case. It did, said Webster, and if the justices agree, Brandenburg may spell the end of the trial judge’s order. In Brandenburg, the high court reversed unanimously a trial judge’s order prohibiting a divorced father from visiting his children in the presence of his girlfriend, with whom he had conducted an extramarital affair. “Absent any evidence that exposure to [the girlfriend] would adversely affect the best interests of the children, we find the trial court abused its discretion,” wrote Justice Carol W. Hunstein. The Arnold case dealt with the children of Julian T. and Kimberly Arnold: Chel’c, 8; Julianna, 7; “Little Man” Julian, 5. A fourth child, Amaya, is deceased. JUDGE’S RULES Last year, Judge Albert B. Collier of Clayton Superior Court said the Arnold parents would share custody, but he awarded the mother, Kimberly, primary physical custody of the children. Collier prohibited both Arnolds from having a member of the opposite sex to which they were not related stay overnight in the home while the children were with them. Judge Collier also ordered Kimberly to ensure that the children had no contact with TaVondria D. Battle, whom he described in a later order as “a confessed lesbian.” Explaining his ruling on Battle, Collier wrote, “When the Court considers what is in the best interest of the children, it has to take into consideration as part of that what is morally in the best interest of the children.” Kimberly Arnold, a 30-year-old real estate agent, said in an interview that she met Battle, a 29-year-old musician, at church. In court, the two have denied any sexual relationship, but Battle obviously is close to Kimberly Arnold and her children. “She taught them how to be potty trained,” said Kimberly Arnold. Before Judge Collier, Kimberly Arnold was represented by Tina G. Stanford of East Point, Ga., and Julian Arnold was represented by M. Byron Morgan of Jonesboro, Ga. But for the appeal to the high court, Kimberly Arnold retained Webster through an arrangement with Atlanta Legal Aid, while Morgan said Julian Arnold had not retained him for the appeal. DAD: COULDN’T AFFORD LAWYER An electronics technician for BellSouth Corp., Julian Arnold said in an interview he couldn’t afford to hire an appeal lawyer. “I’m just tired of the whole situation,” he said. He maintained he still didn’t want his children to have contact with Battle. “I don’t want my kids [to be] part of that situation,” he added. “Obviously the judge saw the same thing,” he said. When the court granted certiorari, it said it was particularly interested in whether Judge Collier erred in prohibiting contact with Battle in light of the Brandenburg decision. Webster’s brief attacks Collier’s order as impractical, as it bans even inadvertent contact with Battle. But in Brandenburg and other decisions, courts have prohibited contact with children only when harm to the children has been demonstrated. But Webster pointed out that instead of showing harm, the record shows that Battle has been a “constructive influence for the entire family,” noting that Kimberly Arnold’s daughter by a previous marriage testified that her mother and Battle were “‘really good friends’.” “The record makes clear, in a variety of ways, that the trial court entered its restrictive order solely for the reason that Ms. Battle is a lesbian, and not because of any acts by her or [Kimberly Arnold] that might harm the children.” In an amicus brief, the National Association of Counsel for Children, the National Association of Social Workers, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., reflected Webster’s contention that Collier’s ruling was based on Battle’s lesbianism and not on any demonstrated harm to the children. “To be concerned for all children means not drawing arbitrary lines; it means furthering robust parent-child relationships even when the decisions parents make on children’s behalf prove to be different from the choices a court would make,” the brief said.

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