Legal Aid Lawyer Can Be Sued Over Parental Abduction
Leyla Mirjavadi and her daughter, Saba, came to the United States and were granted political asylum. The daughter was the product of an arranged marriage in Iran. Mirjavadi's husband, Orang Fabriz was also her first cousin.
Fabriz also moved to the U.S. and was granted visitation rights. Mirjavadi, however, claims he threatened to kill her and she worried he would kidnap their child. Mirjavadi was so worried about a possible abduction that she had hired a lawyer to supervise Fabriz's visits with Saba.
Despite the precautions, Fabriz whisked away Saba away during a supervised visitation at a Stamford mall. By the time the supervising lawyer realized they were gone, father and daughter were on a plane headed to Turkey.
Mirjavadi may never see her daughter again, but because of a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court, she will at least get her day in court. The justices ruled that Mirjavadi's lawsuit against the lawyer tasked with preventing an abduction can proceed. The mother's lawyer said he'll ask for several million dollars when the case goes to trial, likely in 2014.
A trial court had initially tossed out the suit, claiming that the kidnapping was not foreseeable. The state Appellate Court disagreed, reasoning that once the trial court determined that abduction prevention was a purpose of the supervised visitations, the court could not then reasonably conclude that the event the defendant was hired to prevent was unforeseeable. The state Supreme Court justices, in an opinion written by Justice Peter T. Zarella, backed the Appellate Court.
"We agree with conclusion that the trial court's analysis of foreseeability was fundamentally flawed," wrote Zarella.
"We're happy with an affirmance," said the mother's lawyer, Brenden P. Leydon, of Tooher Wocl & Leydon in Stamford. "We're looking forward to going back to [the trial court] to prove our case. The heart of the matter… is the reason that the [lawyer] was there for the supervision in the first place — risk of flight."
Distraction At Mall
Mirjavadi, upon her divorce lawyer's recommendation, hired Maria Varone, a Bridgeport-based legal aid attorney, to supervise Saba's visits with Fabriz. "Varone got some prominence as supervisor in child custody roles, and actually [in one previous instance] had jumped on the hood of car when a father had tried to run away with a kid and was able to stop an abduction," Leydon explained. "That was part of the attraction for my client. 'This is the person I want to watch my kid.'"
The parties agreed that the visits would occur at the Stamford Town Center, a large shopping mall. The supervised visits continued for several months.
On October 6, 1996, during a scheduled 2 to 5 p.m. visitation, Fabriz managed to take his daughter from the mall while his uncle, Anthony Vakilzadeh, distracted Varone.
After leaving the mall, Fabriz and Saba, then 2 years old, took a limo to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, paying for the ride with his ex-wife's credit card. Father and daughter caught a 6 p.m. flight to Istanbul. Mirjavadi has never heard from Fabriz or Saba again.
Police arrested the uncle, Vakilzadeh, a civil engineer who resides in New Jersey, in December 1996 and charged him with second-degree kidnapping and first-degree custodial interference. Vakilzadeh eventually pled guilty to first-degree custodial interference and a related charge. He was sentenced to two years in prison and actually served nine months.
In the late 1990s, Mirjavadi filed a lawsuit against Varone alleging that the abduction was caused by Varone's negligence and carelessness because she had failed to supervise the visitation properly. Specifically, the lawsuit said that Varone should not have left father and daughter out of her site, and that she should have made sure that Fabriz did not have his passport. The plaintiff further claims Varone waited more than two hours after the abduction to report it. If the lawyer had done so sooner, the escape could have been foiled at JFK, Mirjavadi claims.
Leydon said Varone has never really given much of an explanation of what happened. "She claimed the uncle strung her along saying, 'They're around here somewhere,'" said Leydon. "That explained [a reporting delay of] 15 minutes...[After that,] there's a mess of a time gap. We never got an explanation that made any sense."
Varone's lawyer, Lloyd D. Pedersen, of Pedersen & Stewart in Hartford, did not return repeated calls last week. Pedersen had told the Supreme Court that the trial court was correct in deciding that there was reason to think that an abduction was unforeseeable. For one thing, he said, Fabriz had landed a job in Connecticut a short time beforehand.
Leydon expects the trial to take place sometime early next year. Since the kidnapping, his client has required counseling and takes daily medications after suffering a breakdown that resulted in her involuntary commitment, according to court documents.