Alumni Profile: Michael E. Kinney

Published: January 12th, 2009

Category: News

Alumnus Michael E. Kinney (JD 94) prevailed in an international child abduction appeal.

Kinney secured for his client a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia, applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine in an international child abduction case. The doctrine holds that a fugitive from justice “cannot seek relief from the same judicial system whose authority he evades.”

Kinney, an attorney at Hunton & Williams LLP in McLean, Virginia, along with litigation partner Stephen M. Sayers, accepted the case pro bono publico. Kinney’s client had exhausted her financial resources fighting for custody of her three-year-old son.

The legal dispute began when the client’s ex- husband, a Mexican citizen, made a unilateral decision to prevent her from returning to the United States with the parties’ son, Kinney said.

“When my client discovered her ex-husband’s intention to reside in Spain, instead of returning together to the United States as they had agreed, she confronted him and he said, ‘It’s not going to happen. You’re stuck here.’”

The client’s ex-husband then hid the child’s passports and cut off his wife from her financial resources. She was forced to make her way alone in a country where she did not speak the language and had no way to earn a living, Kinney said.

After the U.S. Consulate issued a replacement passport, Kinney’s client returned with her son to Fairfax, Virginia. Her ex-husband then filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a treaty to which the United States and Spain are signatories. The General District Court of Fairfax County initially granted the petition and permitted the child’s return to Spain.

“Ultimately the Circuit Court ruled against the father and required him to return the child to the United States for further proceedings,” Kinney said.

Despite appealing the Circuit Court’s order, the father did nothing to suspend enforcement of those orders pending his appeal.

“He simply disobeyed the Court’s orders,” Kinney said.

The case would become a two-year appellate odyssey that ultimately resulted in the mother gaining custody of the child. The landmark case led to the first application of the fugitive disentitlement doctrine in Virginia State courts. The decision sends an unambiguous message to litigants in Virginia courts, Kinney said.

“Any litigant who wants to be heard by a Virginia appellate court must be in compliance with the trial court’s order,” he said.

Kinney attributes his interest in appellate practice to experiences as a judicial law clerk for Judge Earle Zehmer with the Florida First District Court of Appeals.

“Judge Zehmer always stressed the importance of counsel’s preparation for oral argument,” Kinney said.

“Every case raises something new and you’re given the opportunity to educate yourself on different areas of the law, different aspects of human experience.”