Georgia State University College of Law graduate Michael Manely (J.D. '89) with the Manely Firm PC argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Chafin v. Chafin Dec. 5. Manely represents U.S. Army Sgt. Jeff Chafin in his bid regain custody of his daughter, Eris, 5.
"It's nice to have it done," Manely said shortly after his argument before the Court. "I feel like it went very well. The justices were attuned to the subject. It was nice to discuss the case with nine people deeply committed to what they do.
With the intimate setting, Manely said he could see the justices' concern about what he and the opposing counsel had to say despite the case being the Court's last one before the holiday.
Manely's approach before the justices was that it was just another day in court. "You kind of have to just go with it.
"Though the room is huge, it is quite possible to focus on the justices and converse with them," Manely said. "Coming from family law, you are in court all the time with bench trials. I think that helped to have several decades of this under my belt. Granted the stakes are higher and could affect every child in the United States, but the format is the same with the exception of having nine justices instead of one judge."
To prepare for the Court, Manely participated in a moot court with Georgia State Law professors Eric J. Segall, Ryan Rowberry, Lauren Sudeall Lucas, Dean Steven J. Kaminshine and Russ Wofford with King & Spalding LLP on Nov. 9. Manely also participated in a moot court at Georgetown University Law Center on Nov. 30.
"The Georgia State one was a great way to get my moot court preparations started," Manely said. "Their questions were top flight and reflected in the questions the justices asked me. I would not have been as nearly prepared without it."
On Oct. 13, 2011, Eris, 4, was taken from her father, Jeff Chafin, after U.S. District Court Judge Inge Johnson ruled in favor of her Scottish mother, Lynn Hales Chafin. At trial, Lynn Hales Chafin argued that she never really meant for the United States to be her habitual residence with her daughter, even though she had requested relocation by the Army, had applied for U.S. citizenship, and had written to friends and family that she and Eris had relocated to the U.S.
Within hours of Judge Inge Johnson's ruling, Ms. Chafin moved the child to Scotland. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit refused to review the district court's order, finding the federal courts lacked any power over children once they were removed from U.S. soil. In a highly unusual move, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Sgt. Chafin's petition for writ of certiorari requesting the Court find that a right of appeal exists even with Eris now situated in Scotland.
Trial testimony demonstrated Eris was regularly in her father's primary care because of Ms. Chafin's multiple arrests for public intoxication and domestic violence. The child was exclusively in her father's care after her mother was deported to Scotland in February 2011.
Manely argues other U.S. Circuit Courts have ruled that the federal courts retain authority over children removed from the United States. To hold otherwise encourages child abduction, which the Hague Convention on Child Abduction is intended to prevent.