Dear reader, forgive my silence these past few weeks regarding the details of Nunu Sung’s custody case. There are still many facts related to this case that I do not understand and many emotions swirling inside of me. My heart has been heavy; my mind racing with questions.
It has taken me several weeks to write this. Each time I try I end up staring at a blank page … and I cry … and wonder how, under the protection and pledge of a plea deal, this can happen to Nunu? Why did the Judge rule this way? What more could have been done to promote her case? Why was the prosecution allowed to disregard the terms of Nunu’s plea deal?
On February 6, 2012, in what seemed to be a very bizarre set of circumstances, Judge Robert Anderson terminated Nunu’s parental rights. (SEE LINK.) Not only did he sever Nunu’s rights, he denied Nunu’s family—Joshua’s family—as next-of-kin, the option to pursue adoption.
I intended to go to the courthouse to support Nunu when I received word that Nunu’s court appointment for the 6th of February had been postponed. So, I went to work. Imagine my surprise when later that night I stumbled upon an online article bearing the headline: “Refugee Loses Parental Rights”. The bizarre set of circumstances: unbeknownst to Nunu’s lawyers, Terra Costa Howard and Jennifer Wiesner, Nunu had been extradited to court by the prosecution team whereby Judge Anderson terminated her rights.
Not holding a degree in law, I admit there is much I don’t understand regarding the unethical acts committed by the prosecution team throughout these proceedings. In this particular instance, I fail to understand how it is possible that the members of the prosecution team can legally summon a party to court without being required to notify that party’s legal representation.
There are no words to express how stunned and saddened and angry I am at this ruling.
What I cannot seem to wrap my mind around is the course of events that has unfolded over the past few weeks.
In February, Nunu completed the sentence associated with her plea deal. She was released … and then immediately detained by Immigration. Not because her papers are out of order or because she is in the U.S. illegally. (Nunu is not an undocumented immigrant. She entered the U.S. legally under refugee status and her papers are in order.)
The reason Nunu is detained by Immigration has to do with the terms of the plea deal.
According to legislation passed during the Bush administration, any non-citizen convicted of a felony (such as perjury, tampering with witnesses, or obstruction of justice) who then receives a sentence of one year or greater for that felony is classified as an “Aggravated Felon.” (SEE LINK.)
In this case, the crime of lying to the police (considered obstruction of justice) is categorized as a class four felony–the lowest grade felony. As a condition of her plea deal, for the charge of lying to the police, Nunu received the maximum sentence: three years. As a result of receiving the maximum term, Nunu is now considered an “Aggravated Felon.” Classification of an aggravated felony places any non-citizen in holding by Immigration for deportation.
Could it be that Guardian ad Litem, Kathleen Anderson, and members of the prosecution team knew of the strict expansion of the felony status criteria, knew the consequences associated with a maximum penalty, and pushed to secure a maximum sentence so that Nunu would face the prospect of deportation? I am inclined to believe so.
To summarize the events of this case:
- June 2009: within hours after giving birth and denying so to police, Nunu admits her mistake and asks repeatedly to see her son while in the hospital. (Was Nunu provided the opportunity to speak with a lawyer? No. Was an interpreter provided during questioning? No.)
- Joshua is temporarily placed with a foster family with the goal of reuniting mother with son.
- Beginning August 2009: Nunu works diligently for more than two years to meet the conditions of her case plan, assigned by IL-DCFS and ECFA. Which include, weekly supervised visits, attendance in ESL and parenting classes, and provision of needs associated with Joshua’s care (such as food, clothing, diapers, toys, etc.).
- October 2010: for the charge of lying to the police Nunu accepts the terms of a plea deal guaranteeing return of her son upon completion of her sentence. The plea deal also states the prosecution waive their right to attempt to terminate Nunu’s parental rights.
- All parties involved in this case knew the conditions of the plea deal, including Guardian ad Litem, Kathleen Anderson, case workers from IL-DCFS & ECFA, the foster family, and the entire prosecution team.
- October of 2010: Nunu begins serving the sentence associated with her criminal case.
- The foster family, and ECFA, refuse to bring Josh for visits, even though they promised to do so. Nunu sends letters to Joshua weekly.
- Several months into Nunu’s sentence, under the leading of Guardian ad Litem, Kathleen Anderson, the prosecution team blatantly violate the terms of Nunu’s plea deal by petitioning to terminate Nunu’s parental rights.
- Summer 2011: while serving her sentence, Nunu simultaneously begins Juvenile Court proceedings to retain parental rights of her son, culminating in a month long trial that begins in December of 2011.
- December 2011: Nunu is detained without justification in isolation in the DuPage County Jail and retained almost a week longer than the date secured in a court order by her lawyers — actions in direct violation of a court order to return Nunu to the Lincoln Correctional Center during the trial’s three week hiatus.
- February 2012: upon release from her prison sentence Nunu is immediately detained by Immigration. She is now classified as an “Aggravated Felon” as a result of accepting the maximum sentence associated with her plea deal in Criminal Court.
- February 2012: the prosecution team summons Nunu to court so that Judge Anderson may terminate her parental rights, without informing Nunu’s lawyers, Terra Costa Howard or Jennifer Wiesner , of their action.
- February 2012: Nunu is repeatedly transferred between detention facilities, making communication with family and lawyers problematic.
- February 2012: Nunu receives a court appointment (via Immigration) to appear before a Judge. In spite of Nunu’s repeated declarations that an Immigration attorney has agreed to represent her, she is forced to participate in proceedings WITHOUT representation. (My guess is she was not provided with a translator either.)
- Because of the label “Aggravated Felon,” Nunu is being held without bond in an immigration facility somewhere in the Mid-west, facing risk of deportation back to a country that under military rule is persecuting her ethnic group.
Something is seriously wrong here. I just cannot wrap my mind around this. It all seems a bit too … calculated … contrived … planned.
I keep returning to the fact that Nunu Sung was issued the Court’s pledge in a plea deal–remember, that legally binding contract agreed upon by all parties and then ignored by the Guardian ad Litem, Kathleen Anderson, and the prosecution team? Nunu agreed to serve the maximum sentence for the crime of lying to the police and the prosecution team agreed not to terminate her parental rights guaranteeing she would be reunited with her son upon completion of the sentence. (SEE LINK.)
What I am struggling to process right now is how the prosecution is able to get away scot-free in violating the terms of the plea deal while Nunu, who upheld every criteria placed upon her, ends up losing the one thing that matters most in her life, the very thing the plea deal was designed to secure: her son.
I just don’t understand.
What is equally concerning, is that it is almost impossible to locate Nunu as Immigration continues to transport her. This makes it incredibly difficult for family to locate her. It’d also imagine this constant shuffle presents significant barriers for the attorneys representing Nunu to advise her.
And so, as I try and make sense of all this, my heart is very heavy.
My heart is heavy for a mother who after two years of fighting to retain her parental rights, has lost her son.
My heart is heavy for Nunu’s family, knowing they live just one town away from Joshua will never be a part of his life.
My heart is heavy for a woman who trusted in a legal system that failed her through a broken promise in the form of a disregarded plea deal.
My heart is heavy knowing that sometimes the efforts made by countless people to make a difference just don’t measure up to the level of power and influence that can thwart the right course of action.
My heart is heavy for Nunu’s son, Cung van Ni, who will have to one day make sense of all this.
My heart is heavy thinking of what the future may hold for Nunu.
Dear reader, I want to thank you for getting involved. Over the past few months thousands of you have followed the details of Nunu’s custody case, shared her story with others, and advocated for her right as birth parent to retain parental rights by writing letters.
According to an article in The Daily Herald, Nunu’s lawyers, Terra Costa Howard and Jennifer Wiesner, plan to petition the Illinois Appellate Court with an appeal. Since the writing of that article, they have begun the appeal process. I will do my best to provide updates regarding the appeal process but it will be difficult. There are very few windows of opportunity available now for keeping abreast of what is happening. Without media coverage of proceedings, it will be hard to gather information. As long as Nunu continues to be shuffled around by Immigration it will be equally as difficult for her family to communicate with her. As a result, future posts will be less frequent.
Please continue to pray for Nunu. I can only imagine how confused, betrayed, angry, isolated, afraid, heartbroken and distraught she must feel right now. The prospect of facing deportation, to never see her son or State-side family again must be an overwhelming devastation. I can’t imagine … my heart breaks for her.
Until the appeal is finished I will continue to remain,
In support of Nunu Sung.