The Mother, Her Teen Lover and Their Baby

[Moxley Confidential] Appeals court rejects decision to give custody of an infant to a 10th grader

Here's a dilemma: A 38-year-old married woman starts an illegal sexual affair with a neighbor, a 14-year-old Orange County boy with, as one official described it, "raging hormones." Sometime during as many as 40 late-night encounters during a six-month period, the couple conceives a baby. Who should get legal custody of the child? The mother? The boy? The state? Foster parents?

Because the scenario is factual, Orange County Superior Court Judge Dennis J. Keough faced that question in August 2010 and decided to give the little girl to the boy, Miguel, a football player who was then on the verge of entering the 10th grade at a Santa Ana high school. (Miguel's last name is excluded from the public record because he is a minor.)

This month, however, a three-justice appellate panel led by William W. Bedsworth—arguably Orange County's most brainy judicial officer—reversed Keough's decision and determined the infant belongs with her mother, Debra Ayala Tapia.

The reversal is stunning, and not just because Bedsworth and Keough share similar general political ideologies as conservatives appointed to their weighty positions by Republican governors. Bedsworth looked at the same facts as Keough and, as he has proven apt to do, thought outside the proverbial box. He ridiculed Keough's ruling—which was supported by Orange County's government social workers—as, well, boneheaded.

Based on available law-enforcement records, here's background on the situation: Tapia, who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 140-pounds, was the married mother of three children. She was tipsy on beer one night—there are conflicting stories about timing—when she kissed and groped Miguel in a Santa Ana residential swimming pool. The incident ended in intercourse, according to police. (Note: the appellate court record in this case does not list Debra's last name; however, the facts of the custody case are identical to those in a related criminal case, where last names were included.)

How's this for awkward? Tapia's oldest children were friends of her young paramour. Miguel's mother, who discovered the affair and called police, was Tapia's longtime neighbor and friend. Santa Ana police arrested Tapia because it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a person who is a minor. DNA testing later confirmed that Miguel had fathered the child. In October, Tapia pleaded guilty to three felonies. She was sentenced to spend a year in Orange County Jail, where she currently resides, and faces three years of formal probation when she emerges.

But because Tapia appealed Keough's ruling, she will presumably gain custody of the baby, called "B.T." in court records, thanks to Bedsworth and his two appellate-panel colleagues, William F. Rylaarsdam and Kathleen O'Leary. At the core of their decision is the belief that Tapia's sex crimes did not automatically place her in the category of unfit mother. Keough and the county's social workers seemed to have begun their analysis with the opposite assumption.

Indeed, the Social Services Agency (SSA)—which had removed the little girl from Tapia's custody when she was 5 months old—eventually removed her three other children from her custody, too. They determined that Tapia's "lapses in judgment and impulse control" with Miguel had proved she was a serious threat to all children in her house.

"SSA's position assumes an adult woman who has had a consensual sexual relationship with an unrelated boy will probably sexually abuse her infant daughter," wrote Bedsworth, a former OC prosecutor and Superior Court judge first elected to the bench in 1986. "This is, of course, a complete non sequitur, so it is not surprising that the record contains no evidence to support this assumption. . . . If Debra were given to sexually abusing her children, she had three handy before B.T. was born, including two boys. All three older children denied ever being abused, sexually or otherwise; [there is] no evidence of Debra being accused of molesting another child in the past. The record is devoid of evidence of a risk to B.T. being molested by Debra."

Bedsworth also wasn't happy that SSA officials had mocked Tapia's husband for eventually accepting B.T. as a member of his family. Social workers had dismissed the husband's move as "co-dependent" behavior. But the appellate judge argued that the husband had displayed "remarkable magnanimity" and was "shocked" by the attempted belittling mischaracterization.

Bedsworth then turned his attention to Miguel's suitability to have sole custody. He noted that the teen was a first-time, inexperienced father; couldn't remember the child's birthday or many of the details of the sexual affair; and fed the infant only once a day. He also noted that Miguel believed a child's fever could be treated simply by sleep.

"[The baby's] best interests are at issue here," wrote Bedsworth, who said Tapia had a record of providing her own children with "a secure" family life. "Everything else has to take a back seat. . . . Debra made a grave mistake [with Miguel, but] depriving B.T. of her mother's care as punishment for this mistake is not in keeping with the purpose of the dependence statutes and is inexplicable in any terms other than misplaced moral outrage."

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21 comments
Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood

I would love to file a lawsuit against the idiot social workers who made that call. Boneheaded isn't even the right word...perhaps asinine is more appropriate....I'm not sure. Need to dig out my dictionary.

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Bill T.
Bill T.

I'm puzzled about the significance of Mrs. tapia's weight and hight, help me out?

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ocman
ocman

My thoughts on this is the women should not beable to gain custody of the baby. She is obviously an unfit mother. What kind of mother gets drunk everynight and does things with other kids! The baby is better off with the boys family and is in better hands. WHo knows what that women will do when she is alone with the baby! She also should have got more time in jail! Who cares if she is a women! She is still a sex offender and child molester! She wont beable to provide for ths hild after she is released because nobody would want to hire a sex offender! Her husband is alos dumb for bailing her out of jail after she cheated on him multiple times! what a desperate man! Not even worth caling a man

ocman
ocman

that women doesnt deserve to see anyof her kids again!

john
john

Justice Bedsworth is a brilliant jurist and we are lucky to have him in the system. Believe me, we could do MUCH worse. As to the moral fitness of the mother - only time will tell. I am sure the court will stipulate some sort of monitoring or court supervision of the condition of the baby, living conditions at the home, etc. In the end, the best decision is the one that provides the best outcome for the baby.

RobE
RobE

One aspect of this that is being ignored by the commenters here and in Moxley's story is that it ignores the issue of Miguel's mother. Did the judge feel that Miguel's mother was more unfit than a woman convicted of three counts of child rape? Surely, the baby would be mostly raised by Miguel's mom and not Miguel himself and if the judge is too stupid to know that then he should be disbarred immediately. Since we get no indication of what the judge may or may not have thought of Miguel's mother we don't know the answer to that question.

Come on Scott, this should have been an easy thing for you to pick up on.

kuewa
kuewa

Debra Tapia is guilty of 3 felonies, including rape of a minor. The fact that she was sentenced to only 1 year is an example of unequal treatment of male and female pedophiles. Bedsworth''s characterization of Debra Tapia's pedophilic offense as a consensual relationship is beyond belief. In addition, the repeat offense risk should not have been assessed in relation to her own child; the risk in this case is for other underage boys. The fact that Miguel displays inadequate parenting skills and knowledge is irrelevant--- he is a minor and should not be awarded sole custody, but this does not make it correct to place the child with the criminal parent. A more appropriate placement in this case might have been with Miguel's parents or other adult relatives.

Blah
Blah

that is BS people who have done less serious crimes have gotten more time in jail. she should loose all her kids. in order to get her kids back she should prove to the state that is a fit rehabilitated parent

Bruce6053
Bruce6053

I wonder if Judge Bedsworth would feel the same if the adult was a male and the minor was female

Sarah G.
Sarah G.

Bill T:first I thought the height and weight were a racist stab at Ms Tapia's heritage. But on second thought, I think her weight and height were included to juxtapose against Miguel, who is described as a football player (also a seemingly extraneous fact). That is, to bring to mind the image of a hulking teenage boy and a slight woman, an image that doesn't exactly match the stereotype of victim and rapist. Reality, I'm sure, is way more complicated.

Alexmaressfhs
Alexmaressfhs

who cares about that!!! she molested a kid!!!! and u want to know why her weight is in the article! she needs to be locked up for life!

kuewa
kuewa

It was certainly NOT a brilliant decision to commit a child to be raised by a convicted pedophile! This child will later find great joy in learning that she was conceived via pedophilia and her mother was the perpetrator. As for the moral fitness of the mother, time has already told on her. What more do you need?

R Scott Moxley
R Scott Moxley

RobE,

The appellate justices did not address the fitness of Miguel's mother for BT's custody and so it was not a factor in their ruling. You raise an interesting point. Perhaps she should have been considered.

R. Scott Moxley

Silence Dogood
Silence Dogood

C'mon get with it. What 15 year old boy would not jump at the opportunity. This was not an case of rape. Read the case. In several instances the woman was drunk to the point where she was almost passed out. The kid took advantage of the situation. The only mistake he made was too brag about it to his friends. If he had kept his mouth shut, he could have milked that along for years. Regardless, Bedsworth is one smart fellow. He made the right decision.

kuewa
kuewa

If it was a male adult and female victim, the adult would be in prison and the child would be with the female victim's family. Judge Bedsworth is obviously thinking with his extracranial male "brain." If he was thinking with his intracranial brain, he would realize that a child should not be placed with a rapist, male or female.

Turnbu11
Turnbu11

So perhaps that was my point, "who cares about that!!!". I still don't see the significance, and why it's not reasonable to ask for clarification. Just because you, or I, don't understan doesn't mean there's nothing to get. Methinkks thou doth protest too much (to misquote).

myeviltwin
myeviltwin

Yes, because a 10th grader is so much better equipped to be a father. What's better for the child? As stated, the original decision was absolutely a case of misplaced moral outrage, and Bedsworth made the right - and brave - choice here.

kuewa
kuewa

My comment says nothing about the 10th grader being fit to be a father. Obviously, the appropriate legal guardian would be a related adult, such as the child's grandmother or other relatives. But that adult should not be convicted pedophile. The Bedsworth decision is wrong on multiple levels. This child was conceived via rape of a minor and the child has now been sentenced to grow up in the care of the rapist.

 
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