THE STATESMEN, Portland, Tuesday, November 6, 2007.

Ore. high court weighs circumcision case

Associated Press Writer

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- The father of a 12-year-old boy told the Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday that circumcision is a decision best left to the custodial parent while his ex-wife argued a trial judge should have given more consideration to her concerns about the effect on her son.

James Boldt, an attorney, argued his own case in a dispute that began with his conversion to Judaism in 2004.

But the six justices who heard the arguments over whether Boldt's son should be circumcised steered clear of religious issues and instead focused on custody of the boy.

The argument centered on whether Boldt's request to circumcise his son amounted to a risk to the boy's health that supported the mother's argument that she should be granted custody.

Chief Justice Paul De Muniz asked James Boldt whether he felt the trial judge had the authority to make the decision on circumcision for the custodial parent without hearing more about the concerns of the boy's mother, Lia Boldt.

"The court is not a rubber stamp," Boldt agreed. "A court does not to have grant a hearing just for the asking."

But Clayton Patrick, the attorney for Lia Boldt, argued the trial judge should have allowed her to present some evidence to support her health concerns.

"In this case there's been a lot of talk that what we're trying to do is say there can never be a circumcision," Patrick said. "We're not saying that at all. ... We presented enough evidence to at least have a hearing."

Justice W. Michael Gillette asked Patrick what would happen if the noncustodial parent of a child objected to allowing participation in a risky sport, such as football, and then answered his own question.

"The answer to that is that's preposterous," Gillette said. "In fact more people get hurt playing football than from having a circumcision - a lot more, and a lot more seriously."

At some point, Gillette suggested, parents cannot ask a court to substitute its opinion for their own judgment.

Gillette also suggested Lia Boldt was using circumcision as a means to exert control over her son after custody was granted to her ex-husband.

"Your client has been at her former husband's throat, and he at hers, before this court, among other places, over the last - let's see - nine years," Gillette told Patrick.

"The suggestion to me that, quote - 'legitimate concerns' - close quote arise under these circumstances just starts to ring hollow after awhile," Gillette said. "These people are fighting with each other and whether it's legitimate or not is lost in the noise."

The comments were echoed by Steve Freeman, attorney for the Anti-Defamation League, one of several national Jewish groups which filed friend of the court briefs to support the father.

"Circumcision is being used as a weapon in an ugly custody fight," Freeman said.

Rabbi Daniel Isaak at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, who attended the Tuesday hearing, noted that general medical opinion on whether to circumcise tends to go back and forth, like fashion. But the practice has been an article of faith for Jews for thousands of years.

John Geisheker, executive director of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, a Seattle-based group, said after the hearing that he hoped the court would consider the child's rights before making any decision.

"The child deserves a hearing," Geisheker said. "This is a serious procedure on a 12-year-old. Most men, I think, would agree."

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(File created 7 November 2007)