Brazilian Family Ends Sean Goldman Fight

Sean Goldman at age 8 Family Photo

Updated 3:50 a.m. EST

David Goldman's bitter five-year battle to regain custody of his son neared conclusion Wednesday, when the child's Brazilian family halted its legal efforts as a court-ordered deadline for delivering the boy loomed.

Goldman has said repeatedly that until he is on a plane heading to the U.S. with 9-year-old Sean at his side, he would not feel relief. But with a court ordering the boy's handover Thursday morning at the U.S. Consulate, the end appeared to be in sight.

The ruling came as representatives of both families were negotiating the timing of the custody transfer. A representative for the family's lawyer told CBS News the family wouldn't appeal the court-ordered return and are planning a "peaceful transition" to take place.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes ruled that Sean should be turned over to David Goldman in a decision that appeared to bring the case in line with international custody accords.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian family's attorney spoke exclusively with CBS News late Wednesday about the details of the handoff and the breakdown of negotiations over the handoff, travel, and visitation rights for Sean's Brazilian grandmother.

Goldman's fight against a powerful family of Rio de Janeiro lawyers - a David vs. Goliath matchup in a nation where the wealthy are used to coming out on top - shifted in recent months, legally and among ordinary Brazilians.

The case was once largely viewed through a nationalistic lens. But with Goldman's persistent fighting it has come to be seen on talk shows and in neighborhood bars as a dad simply trying to be with his son.

Which is how Goldman has always framed it.

"Sean is my family, Sean is my son. It is our right to be together, not just a rule of law, not just a treaty, not he's Brazilian, not he's American, not he's from anywhere. He's my son and I should be able to raise my son and he should know his dad," Goldman said this week.

Goldman, of Tinton Falls, N.J., won a big legal victory late Tuesday when Brazil's chief justice upheld a lower court's ruling that ordered Sean returned to him. Sean has lived in Brazil since Goldman's ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi, took him to her native country for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in 2004. Last year she died in childbirth.

Sean's stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, has continued the fight, winning temporary custody in Brazil of the boy. He looked prepared to keep him in the family's massive compound with multiple buildings surrounded by tropical trees, a large wall and gate where expensive SUVs pass through and security guards keep 24-hour watch.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who has strongly supported Goldman for a year and is in Brazil with him, said Goldman's lawyers believe Brazil's federal police are authorized to remove the child from the family if the court deadline is not met. He also said the international police agency Interpol has been notified to make sure Sean is not spirited out of the country by his Brazilian relatives.

Goldman did not speak to the media on Wednesday, but GlobalPost's Seth Kugel, reporting for CBS News, exclusively interviewed Sergio Tostes - the attorney for Sean Goldman's Brazilian family - Wednesday night in Rio.

The ruling "was a very clear and definite position from the highest person in the judiciary in Brazil, so I understood it was the end of the line," Tostes said. "Since it came from the highest court in the country and if the decision was rendered by the Chief Justice - out of respect for the judiciary of my country, I said no more appeals. That's the end of it."

Tostes said that further appeals would also likely affect the Brazilian family's future relationship with Sean, "so my priority from that moment on was to try to have as smooth a transition as possible."

But after agreeing that David Goldman would meet Sean's grandmother, Silvana Bianchi, to discuss his habits, his likes and dislikes and some medical issues, and that David would pick up Sean at home rather than meet him at the consulate, discussions broke down over visitation. For instance, the family wanted Bianchi to accompany Sean on the flight to the United States, and wanted to establish some expectation of visitation in the U.S. thereafter.

Thursday morning, U.S. Embassy spokesperson Orna Blum told CBS News they were still "very concerned about the exposure of Sean to the media by legal counsel in Brasil."

"As we announced last night to the media, we make an appeal to the public and all members of the press and parties to the case to particpate in a calm and smooth handover this morning in order to protect the privacy and emotional well being of Sean," Blum added.

Rep. Smith had previously told CBS the Goldman family had been advised that having the Brazilian family members accompany Sean to New Jersey would have a negative effect on his transition. Goldman has often said that he would be open to visitation by the family. Long term visitation plans will presumably be settled in the New Jersey court system, where the custody issues will now be decided.

Tostes and the Brazilian family are now planning to drive Sean to the U.S. consulate in Rio on Thursday morning around 8:30 a.m., parking the car a block away and walking to the door of the consulate. It is unclear if he will be invited in. Media outlets had previously expected Sean and his family to enter through the consulate garage and not appear in public.

"I am doing this … because it will be a media frenzy in the United States," Tostes said. "We know very well he will be arriving there Christmas day. This will be the front page in papers in the U.S. and all over the world. We will have a farewell in front of everybody."

"He's in a state of sadness, of course he is," Tostes said of Sean. "We lost the case. We fought as hard as you can imagine. We lost the case."

Despite the federal appeals court order that the boy be handed over by 9 a.m. (6 a.m. EST) Thursday, Smith said Goldman remains cautious.

"David is very guarded in his emotions because he had so many disappointments in his past, but he does believe that the 9 a.m. deadline is relatively firm," Smith said. "He's optimistic. He can't wait to see his son and to be together for the rest of their lives."

Goldman has seen his son only twice in the five years since his then-wife took the child to visit her family in Brazil, then informed him she wanted a divorce. After a Brazilian court granted the divorce, a New Jersey court awarded Goldman custody of his son.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said a U.S. passport had been issued for Sean and delivered to his father in Brazil.

"Many people have been up through the night to provide support for the Goldman family, to maintain contact with the Brazilian government as we hopefully come to the end of this process," Crowley told reporters. "We look forward to the reuniting of Sean Goldman with his father, David."

Silvana Bianchi, Sean's maternal grandmother, blamed international pressure - in particular, the U.S. Senate's delay in renewing a trade bill worth $2.75 billion a year to Brazil - for losing her grandson.

She lodged an appeal before the Supreme Court last week, petitioning that the boy's own testimony about where he wanted to live be heard. That was denied Tuesday by Brazil's chief justice Gilmar Mendes.

"He is really sad, he doesn't want to go," she told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. "Gilmar Mendes stripped him of his right to expression, to open his mouth and say he doesn't want to go. In his own country, he's not respected. Here, he's under a gag rule."

Goldman has contended, however, that his son wants to return with him and that he has been under undue pressure from his Brazilian family for the past five years.

Christopher Schmidt, a St. Louis-based attorney with Bryan Cave LLP, said the slow-moving Brazil court system is what failed in this case.

"The critical lesson from this tragic story is to not permit these child abduction cases to spiral into protracted custody disputes, as happened in Brazil," he said. "While Brazil finally made the right decision, Brazil breached its fundamental obligation to decide the abduction case expeditiously."

For Smith, the time had simply come for Goldman and his son to go home.

"David and his team are encouraged that the nightmare is coming to an end," Smith said. "No more delays. It's time to do this."
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