The lesbian mother of a 7-year-old boy is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court to keep her son in Las Vegas during her four-month deployment to Cuba.
According to an emergency petition filed by Air Force 1st Lt. Michelle Angeles, Family Court Judge William Potter applied a double standard when he ruled the boy must live with his father in Texas until she returns.
“Michelle could only infer the double standard stemmed from her being married to another woman,” according to the document.
The child flew to Texas on Saturday when the high court declined to intervene on an emergency basis. The mother’s lawyer, David Mann, said they now will proceed with a regular appeal.
Angeles, formerly known as Michelle Bagalawis, divorced the child’s father, Johnny Cardona, in January 2012. Both serve in the U.S. military.
The mother was granted primary physical custody of the couple’s son in August 2013. At a hearing in July, Potter ruled that “when one parent is deployed, the minor child shall go to the parent not being deployed.”
After Angeles learned she was going to be deployed, she filed a motion to keep the child in Nevada with her wife, Suzanne, who has been helping care for the child for more than two years.
The women were married in Iowa in March 2012.
According to the mother’s petition, the boy is accustomed to living in Las Vegas, was doing well in school and was involved with various sports and extracurricular activities.
“You don’t uproot the child,” Mann said.
The attorney said state law required Potter to hold an expedited hearing before Angeles was deployed to Guantanamo Bay in late September, but the judge did not hold a hearing until Oct. 15.
Mann said he tried to obtain a video of the hearing but was told that no recording existed. The lawyer said Potter made no reference to the child’s best interest during the hearing.
According to Nevada law, “On the motion of a deploying parent … a court may grant caretaking authority of a child to a nonparent … if it is in the best interest of the child.”
At the hearing last week, the judge denied Angeles’ motion and ordered that the child returned immediately to Cardona for the remaining three months of the mother’s deployment.
The emergency petition was filed the next day, and the high court denied it on Friday.
Mann said he has practiced in Family Court for many years, and judges routinely allow children to remain with stepparents during short deployments.
The lawyer is convinced his client was discriminated against because she is gay.
According to the emergency petition, Potter “refused to refer to Suzanne as Michelle’s wife throughout the entirety” of the Oct. 15 hearing “and even once referred to her as Michelle’s ‘agent.’ ”
Mann said he was so offended that he decided to handle the mother’s appeal for free. He described himself as a “devout Mormon” who is “not a big gay rights lawyer.”
“I was just flabbergasted when I left the courtroom,” he said.
Potter also is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church teaches that sexual activity should occur only between a married man and woman.
In a telephone interview Wednesday from Cuba, Angeles said the judge had no reason to remove her son from his stable, loving environment.
“He had everything here in Las Vegas,” she said.
Attorney Mandy McKellar, who represents the father, disputed the contention that Potter discriminated against Angeles.
“I don’t think that it had anything to do with discrimination,” the lawyer said. “It had to do with the fact that my client is the dad.”
McKellar said the boy knows his father, and Cardona is “not unfit to parent.”
“I think that the court made the right decision,” she said.
McKellar said the second-grader will start school in Texas on Monday.
The lawyer agreed with Mann’s argument that Potter should have held a hearing before the mother’s deployment.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.