A 2-year-old girl at the center of a custody battle will not have to return to Ohio on Friday as originally ordered by a judge.
Last week, Orange County Judge Michael J. Naughton ruled that the courts in Montgomery County, Ohio, should have jurisdiction over the case involving Stacey Doss, of Orange County, who is in a custody battle with the Ohio father of the 2-year-old girl. The judge ordered that the girl, Vanessa, should be returned to Ohio by July 16, where she would be placed in foster care until a decision is made on custody.
But the Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted an emergency stay, which means the girl can remain with Doss until a final decision is reached in the case. She was scheduled to deliver Vanessa to social services in Montgomery County this Friday.
Experts told NBCLA the case could take months to sort out, but for now Vanessa will remain in Orange County.
Doss released a statement Wednesday:
"The California Court of Appeal has granted us our appeal request for an immediate temporary stay. The response states, '...the child shall not be removed from Orange County, CA, until further order of this court.' This means that Vanessa is safe in California, with me, for the time being. We are elated that the emergency stay is based on the Appellate Court’s concern for Vanessa’s best interest. Today's decision is one victory in what will likely be a long fight. We are hoping that this case is somehow precedent setting for all children in this country."
Doss said she received the news through her attorney.
"I was at a meeting and I started crying," Doss said. "I was shaking like a leaf. I could not believe it.
"It is probably the first piece of good news we've had in this long case but it's part of a bigger battle."
Elizabeth Gorman -- attorney for the girl's father, Benjamin Mills Jr. -- released this statement Wednesday:
"Mr. Mills recognizes the need to have a court decide his daughter's future. As he has all along, Mr. Mills places his trust and faith in the court system, where this matter should and will be resolved. He continues to believe that the court system will bring this private situation that Ms. Doss has made so public to a positive conclusion resulting in a loving relationship between him, his daughter, and his family."
Attorneys representing Mills have until Aug. 2 to file a legal brief responding to the appeal. Then Doss' attorneys have until Aug. 17 to respond to Mills' attorneys.
The justices asked the attorneys "to include a discussion on how the best interests of the child will be served by the grant or denial of the petition."
Mills' attorney, Elizabeth Gorman, said the appellate court's ruling was expected.
"As expected, the court of appeals took this step to give counsel for both parties the opportunity to submit legal arguments regarding the case," Gorman said. "Mr. Mills recognizes the need to have a court decide his daughter's future. As he has all along, Mr. Mills places his trust and faith in the court system, where this matter should and will be resolved. He continues to believe that the court system will bring this private situation that Ms. Doss has made so public to a positive conclusion resulting in a loving relationship between him, his daughter and his family."
The ruling was handed down after an emotional weekend. Ohio authorities communicated with Doss Saturday to work out details of the transfer.
"That call on Saturday made my heart drop," Doss said. "It's just so hard to talk about handing your daughter over to someone. It seems surreal and completely unnecessary."
But the call from her attorney offered some relief for the moment, she said.
"I actually slept last night," she said. "I'm just really happy. She and I had a great morning and I'm just floating. I need to come down a little and get some work done."
Case Background: DNA Test Marks Beginning of Battle
Doss said she tried for years to become pregnant, but several fertility treatments failed.
"When I got divorced, someone said, 'Gosh, you've wanted it so long, why don't you consider adopting as a single mother?'" Doss said.
Doss, 45, signed up with adoption agencies, and after several discussions with pregnant women did not seem like the right fit, she was introduced to Vanessa's mother in Ohio.
"The birth mother said she got pregnant after a one-night stand," said Doss. "After Vanessa was born, she also signed a document, under penalty of perjury stating she didn't know who the birth father was."
But the birth mother wasn't telling the truth. Several days after taking custody of Vanessa, Doss received shocking news.
"I didn't know anything at the time, but I learned later that the birth father showed up at the hospital," said Doss. "I had no idea that he was in fact the birth father until DNA tests came back positive four months later."
By that time, mother and daughter were living in Orange County. The DNA test also marked the beginning of a long, strenuous and expensive legal battle for Vanessa.
Mills and the birth mother have had a "contentious relationship,'' including several restraining orders against each other and a prison record for Mills for domestic violence, according to Doss, who has cited court records.
Doss also claims Mills has relinquished custody of two daughters to his mother.
Doss flew Mills to California in September to visit with Vanessa, and in the hope she could negotiate a settlement of the dispute. Mills returned to Orange County earlier this year for a supervised visit with his daughter, Doss said.
"Mr. Mills recognizes how emotional this case has become," said his attorney, Elizabeth Gorman, who works for a non-profit law firm called Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
Mills said the birth mother lied to him about her pregnancy. He thought she was going to keep the baby and he did not know of her plans to put Vanessa up for adoption.