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Santa Clarita family wants to take tribal custody case to state Supreme Court

Rusty and Summer Page
Summer and Rusty Page listen to their attorney, Lori Alvino McGill, after an appeals court hearing in downtown Los Angeles in June. They’ve pledged to take their fight to the state Supreme Court.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The foster parents of a 6-year-old Native American girl pledged Friday to take their fight to keep her to the state Supreme Court after a lower court ruled that the child was to live with extended family in Utah.

In March, before a crowd of weeping protesters and news cameras, Los Angeles County social workers carried out a court order and removed the child from foster parents Rusty and Summer Page so she could be relocated to live with blood relatives, who include a half-sister.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in downtown Los Angeles upheld that order.

“The Pages are obviously extremely disappointed with the court’s decision, but they believe in our judicial system and remain hopeful that they will ultimately prevail,” said the family’s attorney, Lori Alvino McGill, in a statement.

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“As a mother, it is very difficult for me to fathom what the Pages, and [the girl], are going through right now. We remain focused on [the girl’s] rights under the law, which supports her being reunited with her family in California. In the meantime, it is our hope that [the girl’s] extended family members will look into their hearts and allow her to speak to the family she knows as her own.”

Alvino McGill said the Pages would petition the state Supreme Court to hear their case.

Because the girl is 1/64th Choctaw and her father is an enrolled member of the Oklahoma-based tribe, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act -- intended to limit the breakup of Native American families through adoption or foster care placement -- applies to her case. The Times is not naming the girl because she is a minor involved in a custody dispute.

Central to the Pages’ claim is whether the amount of time that the young girl had lived with and bonded with her foster family -- more than four years -- has made removal so traumatic for her that she should stay with them.

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The Pages have fought the girl’s removal, and she remained with them and their three children for years as appeals dragged on and as the California appeals court identified mistakes by the lower courts.

The girl went to live with the Page family in December 2011, about the time the relatives came forward, according to court documents. Her father, who has an extensive criminal background, discontinued efforts to regain custody in 2012, and social workers initiated work to transfer her to Utah, according to court records.

The Choctaw tribe preferred the Utah family for placement for the girl partly because a sibling lives in the home and another lives nearby.

Alvino McGill told the appeals panel at a hearing last month that the girl had flourished under her clients’ care and that it was in her best interest for her to stay with them.

“It’s utterly undisputed that this child has viewed these people as her parents and this family as her own,” Alvino McGill said. “She became a person with an entire world and relationships that this court cannot ignore.”

Christopher Blake, a court-appointed attorney representing the child, said at the hearing that the Pages “knew full well” that if reunification with the girl’s father failed, she would be placed with her out-of-state relatives.

The girl, Blake said, “has always known she was a foster child” and had regular visits and Skype conversations with the Utah family. An expert agreed upon by all parties determined that she was capable of making the transfer, he said.

The longterm benefits of placement with her extended relatives “far outweigh” the difficulty of moving her, Blake said.

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.

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