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US dad hopeful of obtaining son in Brazil

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David Goldman, of New Jersey, gestures before speaking to the press in Rio de Janeiro, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo) David Goldman, of New Jersey, gestures before speaking to the press in Rio de Janeiro, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — An American father is cautiously hopeful that he will be reunited with his son in Brazil on Wednesday after a five-year custody battle that went to the highest levels of both governments.

David Goldman won a big legal victory late Tuesday when Brazil's chief justice upheld a lower court's ruling that ordered his son, Sean, returned to him. The 9-year-old boy has lived in Brazil since Goldman's ex-wife took him to her native country in 2004. Last year she died in childbirth.

Goldman was happy, but wary about the decision.

"When? When? When will Sean and I be able to go home, father and son?" he asked in an interview aired Wednesday morning on the U.S. television network NBC.

Since he arrived in Rio a week ago — the latest of more than 10 trips in recent years during his legal fight — Goldman has said that until he is on a plane with his son heading to the U.S., he will not be convinced his battle is over.

"We're hopeful that David and Sean will be reunited today," said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Orna Blum, who is accompanying Goldman in Rio.

Goldman's lawyers were finalizing legal documents Wednesday morning and were fully expecting that the Brazilian family would turn over Sean as ordered, Blum said.

There has been no word from the Brazilian family or its lawyer, however, and it is not clear if the boy is even in Rio de Janeiro.

Goldman, of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, has been fighting to get Sean back from the boy's stepfather.

Both the U.S. and Brazilian governments have said the matter clearly fell under the Hague Convention, which seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts in the country where a child originally lived — in this case, the United States.

Goldman's New Jersey-based lawyer, Patricia Apy, said she believed the order by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes required Sean to be handed over immediately.

Lawyers on both sides have said there was still a chance for the Brazilian family to appeal to Brazil's highest appeals court, though the chances of success seemed slight.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican New Jersey congressman who traveled to Brazil to offer his support, said Goldman was pleased with the Supreme Court justice's decision.

"He was elated, a big smile came to his face, but he said 'I'm not going to let my guard down until it's wheels up,'" Smith said.

A lawyer specializing in the Hague Convention said Tuesday's decision by Mendes was the only right one to make.

"It would be virtually impossible to reconcile international law with a ruling in favor of the Brazilian family," said Greg Lewen of the Miami-based law firm Fowler White Burnett.

He said that if the Hague Convention were not followed by the chief justice, "the State Department should immediately issue a travel advisory warning parents not to go to Brazil with their children."

Smith, the congressman, said the fact that the Brazilian chief justice ruled Sean should be with his father would take the steam out of any appeal from the stepfather, himself a lawyer from a prominent family of Rio de Janeiro attorneys.

During a teleconference with U.S. journalists late Tuesday, Smith said law enforcement was on guard in case the Brazilian family did not transfer Sean. He said the international police agency Interpol had been notified to make sure Sean was not flown out of Brazil.

"Our hope is, given the prominence of this family in legal circles, that's less likely to happen," Smith said.

Silvana Bianchi, Sean's maternal grandmother, wrote an open letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva just hours before the Tuesday ruling, in which she said cultural differences and international pressure were driving the case.

"Our moral foundation values the mother's role. In the absence of the mother, the raising should be done by the grandmother," she wrote. "That's how it's done in Brazil, from north to south, regardless of race, religion or social class. It's natural that foreigners, with a different foundation, would not understand these authentically Brazilian feelings."

Meanwhile, Goldman has said his parents and other relatives have been waiting for years to be reunited with Sean.

Silva has said he would not intervene in the case, that it was purely a matter for Brazil's legal system.


Associated Press Writers Geoff Mulvihill in Mount Laurel, New Jersey; Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo; and AP Television News producer Flora Charner contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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