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Fighting for Alessia: Plano father continues court case to bring daughter back to Texas
DALLAS -- The latest round in a multi-year international custody case that spans from London to Plano took place Wednesday in a North Texas courtroom.
The case involves Alessia Hermer, the 3-year-old daughter of Bart Hermer, a Plano resident, and Simmone Jayne Cohen, a resident and citizen of the United Kingdom. Alessia has lived with Cohen in England since 2009 despite several attempts by Hermer to have her returned to Plano.
On Wednesday, Hermer and his attorney appeared in front of the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas to attempt to reverse a Collin County judge's decision to dismiss Hermer's lawsuit. The suit was dismissed in June 2011 due to a lack of jurisdiction.
In December 2010, a British court ruled that Alessia's habitual residence was in England, a decision that Collin County judge Scott Becker accepted when he dismissed Hermer's case. An August 2011 motion to re-open the case was also denied.
In its decision, the UK court stated that its opinion was that the family moved to England in June 2009 with the intention of staying there permanently -- a charge that Hermer denies. The court went on to say it was only after Hermer and Cohen split up in late 2009 or early 2010 that Hermer filed for custody of Alessia, claiming she was being held in England without his permission.
"There is clear evidence that the parties went to England as part of a planned move," the judgment read. "... I accept that the mother plainly indicated that she wished to live in England and the father accepted it. Indeed I have already come to the conclusion that the father saw it as an opportunity for the family."
At the Dallas hearing, Hermer's appellate attorney, Jessica Janicek, said Cohen committed fraud prior to the UK court's decision on residency.
Janicek told the three-judge appeals panel that Cohen obtained a British passport for Alessia without the child's father's knowledge, and also failed to turn over Alessia's American passport as part of a custody hearing held at The Hague. This decision, Janicek said, could have affected the court's ruling on the child's habitual residence.
"This can further prove our case that the child always lived in the United States and that she was just visiting England," Janicek said. "That has always been the contention of our client -- that she was hatching this plan and lied and deceived Mr. Hermer."
Cohen did not have an attorney present at the appeal hearing to dispute the charges leveled by Janicek.
When Becker dismissed the case he wrote, "the UK final order was not obtained by fraud; but rather, father was afforded due process by the UK court."
If the Fifth District court rules in Hermer's favor, an evidentiary hearing will be held back in Collin County where his attorneys will attempt to convince the court that fraud was committed and that Alessia's residency should be in the United States. No hearing of this type was held before Hermer's case was dismissed.
After the hearing, Hermer said he was looking forward to being able to present his evidence and prove that Alessia should be considered a resident of Texas.
"I had mountains of evidence to confirm I had already been denied a fair and impartial trial in a foreign country -- I just wanted one in my own," Hermer said in an emailed statement. "None of my evidence was allowed in the UK pursuant to Article 30 of the Hague Convention -- despite written attempts by the Department of State and Global Missing Children's chairman. We just want a fair and impartial trial and the ability to present evidence to show error and fraud."
Janicek said a decision should be handed down by the Fifth District in the next two to three months.