MEXICO CITY — She was his secretary. He was none other than the chief justice of the Mexican Supreme Court.
She became his mistress, they had two children, but then they drifted apart.
It was the subsequent custody battle that was the real shocker. Ana Maria Orozco landed in prison after the father of her children, by then retired Judge Genaro Gongora Pimentel, accused her of fraud. There she languished, uncharged, for more than a year — set free only after supporters mounted a scathing publicity campaign.
The Gongora case is one of two high-profile custody fights that in recent months have illustrated how very powerful men can, critics say, manipulate Mexico’s weak judicial system to their advantage over their children’s mothers.
In the other case, still unresolved, the father is a former governor of the state of Mexico and a major political patron of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Both dramas have transfixed the Mexican public and stirred a battle cry among human rights advocates, especially feminists.
“Like this case, there are 70,000 more just like it,” Edgar Elias, president of Mexico City’s Superior Court, said when asked recently about the Gongora-Orozco conflict. “Many with prominent people, notables in the world of finance, politics.”
Gongora, 76, is probably more than 30 years Orozco’s senior. To hear her tell it, she agreed to their breakup but when she pressed him for additional child support, he refused and then accused in court her of fraud involving title to the house she lived in with the kids.
Though a civil case, a judge threw Orozco into prison last year. While Orozco was behind bars, the former justice went about building a case against her, including accusing her of abusing the children and trying to persuade Orozco’s mother to testify to that effect, the family said.
Despite his judicial clout, Gongora quickly lost public support as details of the dispute emerged in the Mexican press. The specter of such a powerful man taking harsh legal action against the mother of his two small children, who are autistic, was unsettling. Once a respected jurist and an icon of the political left, Gongora found his reputation dragged through the mud amid the campaign to have Orozco released.
On a single day, seven newspaper columnists published a joint text:
“There are many Genaro Gongoras in Mexico,” they wrote, announcing the creation of a Facebook page called “Enough with Gongoras in Mexico!” that invites others to share their child-custody horror stories. The page had more than 7,660 likes as of Wednesday.
Within weeks, but a full year after Orozco’s incarceration, a judge, Nelly Cortez, ordered her freed “immediately” and expunged her record.
“Losing a year with my children … has been very damaging,” Orozco told a radio interviewer shortly after she was released in late June. “There has been profound damage — mutual damage.”
Gongora dropped his attempt to gain custody of the children, boys ages 5 and 7. And, in something of an apology, he released a video in which he said he “never meant” to have her jailed but followed bad advice from his lawyers.
The national Human Rights Commission has urged an investigation of possible influence peddling by Gongora or others in the judicial system.
The commission has also stepped into the custody battle between Maude Versini and her ex-husband, Arturo Montiel, former governor of the state of Mexico and a titan within the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
That nasty and bitter fight has teetered on the brink of an international incident.
Versini was awarded principal custody of the couple’s three children when they divorced in 2007. She later moved to her native France with the children and her new husband.
Versini accuses Montiel, 69, of violating the custody agreement by keeping the children two years ago during a Christmas vacation trip back to Mexico to visit him.
She has not seen them since.
Montiel then obtained a ruling from a local court in the state he had governed until 2005 when his successor, Peña Nieto, took over, according to a letter that the newspaper Reporte Indigo said he wrote to the publication last year. In the letter, he claimed the children had suffered physical and psychological abuse with their mother.
The government of France has been sympathetic; Versini’s supporters have argued that the children belong with her in accordance with international treaties governing cross-nation child custody matters.
Montiel’s critics contend he was able to ignore such rules because of the enormous political influence and wealth he accrued during his term as governor, an administration marred by numerous allegations of official corruption.
No government official, including the Mexican Foreign Ministry, has spoken on Versini’s behalf.
Versini has repeatedly fought to see the children, and a court finally granted a brief visit last month. But Montiel failed to produce the children, she said.
Last month, another Mexican court ruled that the children — an 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old twins — could stay with Montiel. That judge said the children wanted to stay with their father and did not want to return to Paris.
Versini says it is likely at this point that they have been brainwashed by Montiel and his wife.
“If I had had contact with my children from the beginning … this never would have happened,” she told MVS radio from Paris.
The law firm representing Montiel, responding to telephoned and written requests for comment, said the only attorney authorized to speak about the case was not available.
Versini has vowed to continue to fight for access to her children but said she feels she is up against “enormous manipulation.”
The Human Rights Commission also proclaimed Versini should be allowed to see the youngsters and that it was investigating whether her rights had been violated because of the way she has been kept from them.