An attorney for a woman who fled Singapore with her young son to escape an allegedly abusive husband urged a federal appeals court yesterday to reverse a lower court decision that would require her to take the boy back to Singapore.
The woman, Lee Jen Fair, and her husband, Abdollah Naghash Souratgar, looked on as Randy Mastro of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that Southern District Judge P. Kevin Castel's (See Profile) repatriation order "underestimated" the "grave risk" posed to 4-year-old Shayan by a return, and "overestimated" the value of a pledge made by his father, a native of Iran, to litigate custody only in Singapore civil court.
Mastro, who is representing Lee pro bono, said that repatriation would harm Shayan in two ways: He would be exposed to his father's abuse of his mother, and he eventually would be separated from his mother when his father took him to Iran.
Shayan's guardian ad litem, Jennifer Baum of the St. Vincent DePaul Legal Program's Child Advocacy Clinic at St. John's University School of Law, also argued for reversal of Castel's order, saying that otherwise the matter "will end up in Sharia court."
But Robert Arenstein of Manhattan, Souratgar's attorney, responded that Mastro's contentions pointed to "facts not found" by the lower court, along with "conjecture and name-calling."
Judges John Walker Jr. (See Profile) , Richard Wesley (See Profile) and Christopher Droney (See Profile), who heard the arguments in Souratgar v. Lee, 12-5088-cv, challenged the attorneys as to why no psychological exam had been performed on the boythe absence of which Wesley called a "gaping hole"and what to make of a one-time joint custody order from a Malaysian Sharia court if, in Wesley's words, the "dice were so loaded" against Lee in such courts.
As the arguments unfolded in the packed courtroom, Mastro repeatedly stressed that Castel had erred and enumerated what the consequences could be. But he was frequently interrupted with questions. At one point, Walker asked Mastro, "as a practical matter," how the abuse could continue if the couple no longer lived together.
Mastro answered that Souratgar had continued to abuse Lee after they separated.
The judges pressed Arenstein on whether findings of psychological harm could be found without testing and they quizzed Baum on the perceived faults of Singapore's courts.
At one point Wesley and Arenstein were talking over one another, prompting Wesley to say: "Don't interrupt me again. This is not divorce court. This is the Second Circuit."