Judge Michael Gordon's cupboard-sized Phoenix courtroom was packed Wednesday afternoon with supporters of both Courtney Bisbee and Bisbee's parents Camille and Tom Tilley. Family court seldom gets that kind of action. The Tilleys were there to petition the court for visitation rights to their granddaughter, Bisbee's daughter, Taylor Lee.
As regular readers of this blog know, I wrote a cover story last year detailing Bisbee's false conviction and imprisonment for the alleged molestation of a 13-year-old Paradise Valley boy. She's now doing an 11-year stint in Goodyear's Perryville prison. But this hearing wasn't about the issues in that case, the new evidence of Bisbee's innocence, or the recantation of a key prosecution witness. All this court date was about was whether the Tilleys can visit Taylor Lee, who now lives in Nevada with her father Scott Bisbee.
Scott Bisbee did not appear, either in person or telephonically, though his goal is to keep the Tilleys from seeing their grandchild, who is now 9 years old. Instead, he was represented by lawyer Jennifer Ryan-Touhill, who seemed outflanked at several points in the proceeding by Courtney Bisbee, who phoned in from Perryville, and by the Tilleys, who were representing themselves.
Already on the table was a motion from an absent Scott Bisbee asking that the hearing be dismissed. Ryan-Touhill argued that Gordon's court does not have jurisdiction because the child lives in Nevada. But Camille Tilley cited Arizona Revised Statute 25-409(e), which states that, "A grandparent or great-grandparent seeking to obtain visitation rights under this section shall petition for these rights in the same action in which the parents had their marriage dissolved..." As Courtney and Scott were divorced in Maricopa County, Camille Tilley argued, she and her husband were simply following the letter of the statute.
But Ryan-Touhill pointed out that a previous judge had ruled that Arizona has no jurisdiction, as the child resides in Nevada. Both Courtney Bisbee and her mother countered that Nevada would not accept their petition. Flustered, Ryan-Touhill told the judge at one point, "I do not practice law in Nevada." But both Courtney Bisbee and Camille Tilley were able to cite Nevada laws implying they were precluded from filing in that state. Bisbee said they had talked to a Nevada law firm about the matter, and this is what they were told.
Courtney Bisbee pleaded with the court, saying that a finding that Arizona has no jurisdiction would leave her parents with no options.
"My parents have sacrificed themselves for my daughter," she sobbed, later adding that her former husband refuses mail from her or her parents to her daughter.
Gordon ultimately decided to stay the proceeding 60 days so that the Tilleys could consult with a Nevada law firm, and confirm, one way or the other, if they could petition for their grandparent rights in Nevada. Ryan-Touhill seemed genuinely annoyed, shaking her head in disbelief at one point.
I tried to ask Ryan-Touhill a few questions after the hearing, but she refused once she learned I was with New Times. I persisted in questioning her, walking alongside her as she headed for the elevator, because, shucks, that's what a reporter is supposed to do. (I know 'cause I've seen Mike Wallace do it a buncha times on 60 Minutes.) Ultimately, she became so peeved with me that she marched back into court, announced to the judge that a reporter had been observing the proceedings, and demanded a security escort from the building.
I told the judge that yes, I am a reporter, that I had asked the Superior Court's Public Information Officer Karen Arra about being there, and she told me it was open court and there was no problem with me observing. The judge agreed I had a right to be there, but to make Ryan-Touhill happy, had a security guard walk her out as I waited in the court for her to leave.
Kinda odd. But I put it down to Ryan-Touhill's unhappiness with the outcome of the hearing, and her lack of appreciation for my sarcasm. (When she refused to tell me why Scott Bisbee wasn't in court regarding his daughter, I asked if he were busy in Nevada selling a Buick. He's car salesman, or was the last time I checked.)
I don't hold it against her, and if she wants to speak to me about why her client is trying to block the Tilleys' grandparent rights, I would welcome her call. I'd also advise her that reporters other than I will probably be asking her questions about the case. Fox News, for one, ran a segment last night on the Tilleys' fight to see their granddaughter, from whom they've been seperated since 2005.
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