Judge throws out case under Florida's new Grandparents Visitation Rights Law

A judge in Brevard County has thrown out a case under Florida’s new grandparents visitation rights law.  The case raises questions about the new version of the statute which says that if one parent is deceased, missing, or in a persistent vegetative state and the remaining parent has been convicted of a felony or violent crime, grandparents can petition the courts for visitation rights.
Margo and Stanley Linder of Port St. John asked the court for visitation after the daughter, Christa, died and their granddaughter went to live with her biological father.  The Linders had cared for Christa and her daughter Hope, who is now three years old, from the time that Hope was born.   They claim Hope’s father had little contact with her. Hope went to live with him shortly after Christa died in 2014.
Brevard County Family Court judge Morgan Reinman on Monday dismissed the Linder’s case because the father had never been convicted of a felony. Court documents show that he plead guilty to possession of cocaine in 1999, but he served probation, adjudication was withheld, and he does not have a felony record.
Jason Ponder, the attorney who represents the Linders, said he believes there is grounds to appeal on that point.  “There is case law that was presented today that evidences the fact that a plea of guilty can act as a conviction,” Ponder said.
Had the judge not dismissed the case, she would have heard arguments on the constitutionality of the law. Prior versions of a grandparents rights law have been ruled unconstitutional.  
Timi Tucker,the attorney the represented the father said she was prepared to argue that the new version is unconstitutional as well.  In a motion to dismiss the case, she argued the statute infringes on a parent’s rights and it’s overly broad. “The statute doesn’t say how long or how near or how far away you have to be convicted of a felony.  Was it 20 minutes ago? Was it 20 years ago.  And it doesn’t discuss the type of felony that you need to be convicted of,” she said.
“The [legislative] committee went through great lengths to remove all the unconstitutional language,” Ponder said. “Constitutionality comes down to whether it’s infringing on the father’s rights.  My clients are seeking visitation.  My clients are not seeking custody,”  he added.
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