A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge placed a temporary gag order yesterday on 12-year-old Daniel Etlin, who went to court Friday with his own attorney to "divorce" his father.
"Daniel is not to give any more interviews," Judge F. Bruce Bach ordered from the bench, apparently referring to stories in Sunday's Washington Post and elsewhere. "There is a whole lot to this case. I don't think it is going to help this boy to have it spread all over the paper."
Daniel, who has been caught in a custody battle between his divorced parents for more than a decade, went to court to ask a judge to allow him to be represented by his own attorney, Bruce Fein, a lawyer specializing in constitutional cases.
Fein argued that Daniel should have a constitutional right to be heard independent of his mother, father and their attorneys. Daniel said in an affidavit that he did not want to return to his father, Vladimir Etlin, 53, who has custody.
Daniel, who was then interviewed by reporters outside the courtroom, said that he wanted to "get away" from his father and that he wanted to be with his mother, Michelle Etlin, 43. His story was reported by The Post, United Press International and the Fairfax Journal.
Elizabeth Lender, a social work supervisor for the Department of Human Development, testified that Daniel was in a precarious state emotionally and was placed in a foster home after Friday's hearing. Lender said that Daniel was contacted Sunday at his foster home by WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the Fox affiliate in Washington.
The station interviewed Daniel over the telephone, then set up a live interview with Daniel from his foster home, before Lender was contacted. Lender said when she learned of the scheduled live interview, she objected to it because Daniel was in the custody of the state.
"With this background," Bach said, "I called the hearing to put an end to Danny appearing on Fox television, to Danny giving any interviews. My information on Daniel Etlin is he's a very fragile, very disturbed kid. It's my opinion that sort of media circus is detrimental to the well-being of this boy."
Bach said the order would be in effect until a hearing Thursday in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, where a judge may decide who will have custody of Daniel until a hearing on the evidence in the custody case. Daniel did not attend Monday's hearing.
Daniel's mother, who was banned from Friday's hearing, disagreed yesterday with Bach's ruling on her son. "It violates his First Amendment rights," said Michelle Etlin. "Danny wants publicity. He feels like he's getting support from the public. He really believes in the Constitution. And he didn't get that from me. He studied that in school and in the Boy Scouts."
Daniel's father declined to comment on the hearing, citing earlier statements in which he denied abusing Daniel and said the boy was "brainwashed" by his mother.