Everything seemed ready for Armando Corona to take his two young children to visit his grandmother in Mexico. The Christmas trip was in the stipulated agreement he and his ex-wife had brought to the Family Law Court in Riverside during their divorce proceedings. They had both given approval.
Then he found out the judge didn't.
"Despite what my ex and I wanted, it does not matter," Corona said. "He won't allow it."
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David Winslow, Corona's attorney, described Judge Michael Naughton's statement as bizarre.
Naughton had decided Mexico was too dangerous for Corona to take his children through, citing the Nov. 4 attack on a convoy of three families driving through northern Mexico on their way to the U.S. border.
Their vehicles had been shot up and burned — apparently by a drug cartel — leaving three mothers and six children dead.
"I'm not going to allow visitation to Mexico, period. I don't care whether you stipulate to it or not. I'm not going to allow it," Naughton said, according to the transcript of the divorce proceeding, which was held a day after the attack.
"It's unfortunate what happened to that family, but you can't live in a world of fear and stay home," Corona said. "That incident happened thousands of miles away from where my grandmother lives in Veracruz."
Corona also noted he and his children would be flying, not driving through rural Mexico.
"It's just like if the judge heard there was a gang shooting in [Los Angeles] and said the parents could not take their kids anywhere in LA," Winslow said.
But it was what the judge said next during the proceeding that made Corona wonder if his decision was due entirely to abundant caution. Winslow asked if the passport permission could remain so the father could travel elsewhere with his kids.
The judge said, "Where would they go if not Mexico?"
Then he denied the request.
"In a way, I felt he was discriminating because I'm Mexican," Corona said. "I can't take my kids to Canada or Europe?"
Corona is a U.S. citizen born in Orange County, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who now serves as a LA police officer. His children have never met his grandmother, whose health is slipping amid a series of surgeries.
He thought of getting her a ticket to come to the U.S., but concluded she was not well enough to fly.
"Unfortunately, these might be her last days," he said.
Neither the judge nor the court could comment, citing the pending case.
Naughton is retired but has continued to accept bench assignments through the Assigned Judges Program. Like Corona, he's a Marine Corps veteran.
"If we had time to sit down and talk, I think I could have explained my case better," Corona said. "But the judge just said, 'Nope.'"
Winslow said in his opinion the judge’s refusal to agree to the Mexico travel is not necessarily binding if both parents remain in agreement. But at this point, the trip is not possible because the children do not have passports.
The applications require the signatures of both parents.
After what has happened, Corona said he is reluctant to ask his ex, Margarita, to go against the judge’s wishes and join him in applying for the passports.
Corona is thinking maybe he should make the trip to Veracruz alone while the children stay with their mother, and for now, do their visiting with great-grandmother on FaceTime.