RIFQA BARY: From the Courtroom
Don't know if this is credible but here it is:
Rifqa walked in after her parents sat down with their attorney Craig McCarthy at one table.
She is seated at another, but facing her mother, who is wearing a scarf and wiping her eyes with a tissue.
Rifqa wants to make a statement before the hearing begins.
The attorneys are huddling before the judge for a decision on whether he will allow that.
UPDATE: Judge Dawson has decided to let her speak, saying it his policy to let anyone speak in open court.
This case is about jurisdiction, whether she can stay in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families, or whether she has to be turned over to Ohio authorities.
A representative from DCF has told the court that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to investigate the matter, because DCF fears she is in danger.
An attorney for Rifqa's parents said Ohio has investigated this matter and if there's any question about her safety, then Ohio is the place for that to be determined.
"There is no basis," the attorney said, for her to stay in Florida since her life is in Ohio.
McCarthy said it would "enormous prejudice" to try this matter in Florida.
A legal representative for Rifqa says since Ohio has no prior legal proceeding in this case, then Florida can claim jurisdiction.
Staying in Florida, her legal team argues, would keep her safe.
Judge Dawson said he has had no contact with Ohio courts, so he doesn't know if Ohio wants jurisdiction in this case.
"Rifqa wants to be here," said one of her lawyers.
He told the court the teen's safety would be compromised back in Ohio, referring to some 'terrorist activity' in the region where she lived. He did not elaborate.
UPDATE: Rifqa is sitting with her attorneys, reading a book that she brought in. She glances at the judge and her legal team, but not her parents.
Judge Dawson says "at first blush" it appears his court has jurisdiction in this custody matter, since no Ohio court has taken up the matter.
Attorneys for the parents are citing a ruling that Judge Dawson could request an Ohio court to initiate a hearing, but Dawson said he didn't feel that was the case, although he appears willing to make contact.
update: A hearing is set for September 3rd at 2:30 p.m.
A dependency petition will be argued at that time.
The judge is still ordering a mediation effort to avoid trial.
update: Rafqa is making her statement to the court. "I've been a christian for 4 years of my life. I love my parents but I am in fear of my life because of the past abuse. I assure your honor Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I am a Christian, a believer."
Her mother cried, "I need my daughter back."
He father said "I love my daughter, I have no problem in her practicing another religion."
She is free to come and practice what she likes in my home," he said.
Rifqa will spend some time with her younger brothers, but does not want to meet with her parents at this time.
The court will allow it.
update: Rifqa is staying in a foster home. Her foster parents are not willing to allow supervised visitation of Rifqa's family or friends right now. The judge is recommending DCF take charge of the issue and hold these meetings in an outside location where it can be videotaped.
Judge Dawson asked if Rifqa is a legal immigrant. She was born in Sri Lanka. Her attorneys say they are trying to determine that and need the parents' cooperation.
Her father, Mohammed, said she arrived in the U.S. on a visa. Since she has turned 17, her legal status is in question.
Rifqa will be home schooled in her foster home. She attended high school back in Ohio where she was a cheerleader.
The hearing ended at 4:07 PM