Tribe to argue sovereignty in legal-fee demand

TULSA, Okla. (AP/WCIV) -- Officials say the Cherokee Nation will argue that tribal sovereignty makes it immune from a request for $1 million in legal fees in a custody battle over a 4-year-old girl.

Attorneys representing Matt and Melanie Capobianco filed the request for legal fees in the custody dispute over 4-year-old Veronica. The Capobiancos have custody after Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, dropped all legal proceedings.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Nowata County and seeks $1,028,796.50 in attorneys fees and an additional $6,535.27 in other costs, according to court documents. The money would be split between the four law firms that handled the custody battle that crossed state lines and multiple jurisdictions.

The court records show that attorneys working for the Capobiancos logged more than 2,000 hours and charged $480 per hour.

Lori Alvino McGill, Veronica's birth mother's attorney, said the attorneys are seeking fees for the time the Capobiancos spent fighting Brown in court after South Carolina ordered the adoption to be finalized.

The Capobiancos spent nearly two months in Oklahoma after being granted custody by South Carolina courts, but attorneys for the Cherokee Nation and Brown, Veronica's biological father, fought the order to hand over the 4-year-old with one filing after another in district courts and the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Ultimately, the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted a stay stopping the handover of Veronica, marking the second change of custody in the young girl's life.

Brown is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo says the tribe should be immune from the demand for legal fees. Nimmo tells the Tulsa World that the request for fees seems to be "a warning to fathers and to tribes."

An attorney for the Capobiancos says lawyers on the prevailing side are entitled to their fees and expenses.

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