A choice wording in an ongoing legal dispute gave the impression to some that the Archdiocese of Mobile, or at least its attorneys, briefly recognized a same-sex marriage last month.
Though attorney F. Grey Reddit was quick to say he nor the his clients “recognize [Attorney Christine Hernandez] as the parent” of her partner’s child, their relationship was expressly acknowledged in a recent court filing related to a 2013 case filed over bullying and harassment at St. Pius X Catholic School on Sage Avenue.
The suit began when minor plaintiff “A.S.” allegedly suffered repeated bullying at the school for more than a year. The suit also claims that A.S. and her mother, April Sexton, made several attempts to address the issue with multiple teachers as well as school and church administrators.
Since the original filing, three similar cases have been filed against St. Pious X – all claiming incidents of “name calling, pushing, shoving, isolation, ostracization, harassing comments, physical attacks and some claiming both sexual and racial harassment.”
One of the cases claims that a plaintiff previously reported bullying to Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich, who addressed the school through her “Bully Blocker” program.
Another case claims a minor plaintiff suffered substantial physical injury requiring medical assistance after an assault by a student at the school last May.
In the “A.S.” case, attorneys for St. Pius X and the Archbishop of Mobile argued in previous court documents that Hernandez is a second mother to the minor plaintiff, which could required her to be deposed by the defense. Due to her role as acting attorney in all four related cases, Hernandez and co-council David Kennedy filed a motion to prevent the deposition.
Hernandez’ relationship to the child is undisputed, but the plaintiffs response to the request for deposition claims the “state recognizes her as a legal stranger.” In an Aug. 15 hearing, lawyers for the school argued otherwise.
“After all, it is undisputed that Christine Hernandez has relatedly represented that she is a parent of A.S., both in discussions with St. Pius X school teachers, administrators, employees and other personnel and on written St. Pius X school forms, documents and other papers,” the court filing reads.
Reddit said the issue isn’t about Hernandez being a parent, but instead comes down to whether the school is authorized to deal with her.
“We’ve been given papers from the school, but we don’t recognize her as the child’s parent,” Reddit said. “In the past, schools have authorized a housekeeper to pick a child up or another family member or family friend. We weren’t saying she was a parent at all.”
In the defendants’ court filings, the phrase “in her capacity as parent of A.S.” is used multiple times, and the defense even specifically refers to A.S. as Hernandez’ “daughter.”
Reddit said that language was used because Hernandez had repeatedly represented herself as the child’s mother in several documents filed at St. Pious X.
“She’s represented to the school that she was in the position of a parent and had the authority act for the child,” he said. “She had made that representation, but we don’t recognize it.”
In a recent press release, Kennedy said, “in order for Ms. Hernandez to be legally recognized as a parent to the plaintiff in this case, the state’s current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would have to be struck down by a federal court.”
“Previously in this case, the defendants have all acknowledged that April Sexton is the mother of the child involved, but in their recent filing, Christine Hernandez is identified as the child’s mother and parent,” Kennedy said. “Under Alabama law and the same-sex marriage ban, that’s legally impossible.”
Kennedy said it’s the first time he’s aware of a Catholic church or organization making the argument that “two people of the same sex should both be recognized as the parent of a child.”
However, the school’s attorneys have maintained that a deposition from Hernandez would be necessary because of her relationship to the plaintiff and her individual experience with the school staff.
Oddly enough, Hernandez used to be employed at the school and had a direct working relationship with one of the teachers named as a defendant in the “A.S.” lawsuit.
The defense has also submitted that Hernandez wouldn’t be protected from deposition because of a violation of the Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct, which states that a “a lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trail in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness.”
In the courtroom last Friday, Mobile Circuit Court Judge Sarah Stewart denied the Archdiocese attorneys’ motion to depose Hernandez and granted a protective order.
Hernandez remains one of three attorneys representing the plaintiffs in all of the bullying cases filed to date, but attorneys are still waiting on a written order that is expected later this week. Until then, all requests for depositions have been put on hold.
Because of her involvement with the cases, Hernandez did not want to discuss the details, but did offer a brief comment about why she accepted the cases.
“This case and the other three cases are not about me,” Hernandez said. “It’s about the children.”
Ironically, Hernandez and Kennedy are the attorneys in another case that is currently challenging the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriage and extend adoption rights to same-sex couples.
The case involves Mobile residents Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, who sued Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange and Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis after Searcy was prevented from legally adopting her partner’s daughter several times court.
Since it was filed in May, Strange and Bentley have been officially dismissed from the case. In late July, a magistrate judge recommended that a motion to dismiss filed on behalf of Davis be denied as moot and that “the case proceed solely against Attorney General Strange in his official capacity.”
Updated at 9:10 a.m., Aug. 20, to reflect more information about the status of Search V. Bentley.