Supreme Court won't step into fight over grandparents' rights

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider making it harder for grandparents to win visitation rights, rejecting an appeal from a dad who went to jail to fight a court-ordered visitation.

Brian Collier had asked the justices to strike down Ohio visitation laws, on grounds that they interfere with parents' rights to raise their families free from government interference.

The court did not comment in rejecting the appeal. Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are grandparents. And Justice Clarence Thomas was raised by his grandparents.

Collier's daughter is 8 and for most of her life has been the center of an emotional legal dispute in the Ohio town of Wooster, about 30 miles southwest of Akron.

The girl's mother, Renee Harrold, was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant and decided not to have treatment until after the child was born, according to court records. The woman died in 1999, when Brittany Renee was 2.

Collier, who never married the mother, later won custody of his daughter but refused to let the girl see her maternal grandparents.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the girl should be allowed to maintain contact with the grandparents who had raised her until she was 5 years old.

Collier served a brief jail sentence in 2003 for contempt of court, for blocking the visitation. He maintains that the grandparents, Gary and Carol Harrold, are trying to turn his daughter against him.

The Supreme Court has dealt before with grandparent visitation, in a fractured 2000 ruling that said states must be careful in helping grandparents and others with close ties to children win the right to see them regularly against parents' wishes.

Collier, a 37-year-old factory worker, said Monday that he was willing to allow the grandparents occasional visits but said the court-approved schedule was almost as much as a divorced parent might get, and he felt that was too much.

"The whole issue is about control and who decides what's best for your children: the state or the parents. It's supposed to be the parent. Somehow in my case it got turned upside down," Collier said.

Rosanne K. Shriner, a Wooster attorney who represented the Harrolds, said they have had regular visits with their granddaughter since Christmas Eve under the terms of an earlier court order while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case.

"They have been enjoying the visits," she said. The Harrolds see their granddaughter on alternate weekends and holidays, according to Shriner.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision will be welcomed by grandparents in a similar situation, Shriner said.

"They can petition the court, ask for their rights as grandparents to be established to get their visitation with their grandchildren -- and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to make that a much more difficult process than it already is," she said.

Carol Harrold said late Monday that she and her husband were thrilled that their visitation rights withstood the Supreme Court review.

"Being a part of her life again, that was our main objective," she said.

The decision was written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired earlier this year.

Collier's lawyer, Lawrence Whitney of Akron, Ohio, told justices that they should revisit to the issue, to bolster parents' rights.

"Any statute allowing any non-parent visitation rights in contravention of a fit parent's wishes is repugnant to that parent's constitutional rights," he wrote in the appeal.

Whitney said Monday that Collier feels strongly about the issue.

"Government should not tell him who should visit his child or who should not visit the child," Whitney said.

The grandparents were granted visitation in part under an Ohio law that allows visits when the parent of a child has died.

The case is Collier v. Harrold, 05-871.

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