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Malcolm Brabant in Miami
Some legal experts said she should have barred herself from the case
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 21:05 GMT
Cuba boy ruling under fire

Elian goes to school as the legal arguments rage

Doubts have been raised over a court ruling that Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor, should remain in the US pending a further hearing on 6 March.

Florida Judge Rosa Rodriguez on Monday granted temporary custody of Elian to his Miami-based great-uncle, Lazaro.

However experts have said her decision is legally unsound because it defies a statement by Attorney-General Janet Reno - believed to be the ultimate authority in such matters.

Ms Reno ruled that Elian should be returned to his Cuban-based father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, by 14 January, following a decision by the US immigration authority (INS).

His great-uncle is fighting for custody

"The attorney-general is under no obligation to heed this invalid order," University of Miami law professor David Abraham said.

"Attorney-General Reno need not even appeal it, she may simply ignore it."

Queries over judge

Questions have also been raised over the impartiality of Judge Rodriguez.

Several leading legal commentators said there had to be serious doubts after her ties to political consultant Armando Gutierrez were disclosed.

Mr Gutierrez is the spokesman for the Miami relatives who have been caring for Elian.

During her 1998 campaign to be elected a circuit judge, Ms Rodriguez paid Mr Gutierrez and his wife more than $63,000 for advertising and political consultancy services.

Although Mr Gutierrez was in the front row for Monday's court ruling, the judge made no mention of their relationship.

Some legal experts said she should have barred herself from the case.

But her supervising judges said that, under the canons of judicial ethics, she had no obligation to disclose such a past business connection and there was no need for her to be disqualified.

INS review

The INS said on Tuesday that it was reviewing Judge Rodriguez's decision, and would not immediately enforce its earlier judgement by seizing Elian.

The INS says his father has custody

"We have no plans to take charge of him, and we have no plans to forcibly remove him from the home," INS spokesman Mike Gilhooly said.

Another spokesman told journalists: "We continue to work toward [14 January]. We are hopeful that we can reunite Elian with his father by that date, but the date is not written in stone."

But in further legal wrangling, lawyers for Elian's great-uncle said they planned to refile a petition seeking political asylum for the boy. An initial petition was withdrawn last week after the INS ruling.

The INS is also studying a subpoena issued by Republican congressman Dan Burton, which orders Elian to appear before his committee in Washington in February.

More demonstrations

Elian was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Florida on 25 November, after his mother, stepfather and nine other would-be illegal immigrants drowned fleeing Cuba.

Monday's court ruling prompted a demonstration in Havana

Since then he has been the centre of weeks of legal wrangling between the US authorities, Cuban exile leaders in Florida and the Cuban Government.

There have been several large demonstrations in Havana in support of Elian's father, the latest on Monday night prompted by Judge Rodriguez's ruling.

The protests are expected to continue, with the official Cuban daily Granma announcing an unprecedented march of 100,000 mothers on Friday morning.

However, BBC correspondents in Havana say that most ordinary Cubans are growing bored of the issue, with a wave of Elian jokes being told around the island.

For his part, Elian returned to school on Tuesday, saying he did not have time to do his homework because he had stayed up too late Monday.

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Analysis: US-Cuba relations in the spotlight
13 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Shipwrecked Cuban boy stirs mixed emotions
06 Jan 00 |  Talking Point
Should the Cuban boy go back?
10 Jan 00 |  Americas
Judge backs Cuban exiles
08 Jan 00 |  Americas
Cuban anger at custody move
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Dozens arrested in Cuban boy protests

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