Friday, April 24, 2015
Court of Appeal Rejects Paternity Claim Against Estate of Olympian Killed by Drunk Driver
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a claim that the biological daughter of a former Olympic cyclist is entitled to inherit his estate.
Jackie Stennett, a Harvard Business School graduate, lost her claim that her daughter, now a teenager, is the legal heir of Amine Britel. Britel, a cyclist who competed in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona as a member of the 4 x 400 meter Moroccan relay team, was hit by a car while cycling in Orange County in 2011.
Police said Britel, 41, was killed while cycling up San Joaquin Hills Road. A 22-year-old Newport Coast woman was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and sentenced to four years in prison for the killing.
Britel owned a travel agency and was from a prominent family in Morocco. He and Stennett met and dated at Harvard, both graduating in the summer of 2000.
Following graduation, Britel moved to Newport Beach and Stennett to Atlanta, Ga.
After Britel’s death, Stennett petitioned the Orange Superior Court to appoint her administrator of his estate and to declare her daughter Britel’s heir under Probate Code §6453(b(2). The statute permits a nonmarital child to inherit from an intestate decedent if the decedent “openly held out the child as his own.”
Britel’s sister filed an opposing petition, asking that she be appointed the administrator. Her petition listed Britel’s mother as the surviving parent.
Evidence at the hearing established a near-100-percent probability of biological paternity.
Stennett testified that she called Britel in August 2000 to inform him of the pregnancy. He responded with an email saying he was “devastated,” because parenthood outside of wedlock was considered shameful in Muslim culture.
“Please understand that I do love you but I am just not ready to be a father right now. I want us to have a child through a legitimate marriage and not outside of wedlock. We need to live together, learn about each other, and then make a committment [sic] for life. I perceive marriage as a very serious engagement. I was devastated for the past two years as a result of a bad marriage. In all fairness, I believe I should be a part of this decision.
“It is important for us to meet to discuss this issue as soon as possible and find a suitable arrangement for both of us.”
Stennett said she and Britel visited in California in late summer for a few days, then stayed in touch by phone for several days, before Britel told her he wanted no contact with her or the child and did not want them contacting his family.
Youssef Choukri, Britel’s best friend, testified that Britel told him of the pregnancy, and that he had told Stennett that she should have an abortion. Choukri said Britel told him in late 2000 or early 2001 that Stennett had an abortion, and that he and Britel never discussed the matter again.
Stennett said she never told Britel she had an abortion.
The only contact she had with Britel after the child was born, she said, was in 2006, when she told him the child wanted to know her father and he gave a “terse and cold” response indicating he wanted nothing to do with them.
She said she never sought an adjudication of paternity during Britel’s lifetime because she wanted him to accept the child voluntarily.
Family members said Britel never told them about the child.
Judge Randall Sherman, in ruling against Stennett and for Britel’s mother and sister, said Stennett was “not convincing,” that another witness on her behalf was not credible, and that Britel never held the child out as his own. The judge said that a mere acknowledgment that he was the child’s father did not constitute the holding-out that the statute required.
Justice Raymond Ikola said the trial judge was correct.
“We conclude section 6453(b)(2) requires an affirmative representation of paternity that is unconcealed and made in open view,” the justice explained. “But although the representation must be a public one, in the sense of being made in open view, the statute does not require an announcement to the world, an official action, or an affectionate fatherly intent.”
In this case, Ikola said, there was no representation of paternity “in public view.” The email Britel sent to Stennett after she told him she was pregnant was private and made clear that Britel intended to conceal the pregnancy from his family, which is precisely what he did, the justice said.
“In sum, substantial evidence supports the court’s finding Amine did not openly hold out A.S. as his child,” Ikola wrote. The jurist went on to reject the claim that the statute unconstitutionally discriminates against nonmarital children.
Justice Richard Aronson concurred in the opinion. Justice Richard Fybel concurred separately, agreeing with his colleagues but suggesting the Legislature revisit the statute “in light of the current state of DNA science and the societal interest in protecting children.”
Fybel said lawmakers should “add to the list of conditions for proving the existence of a natural parent and child relationship that paternity may be established by DNA evidence if the father, during his lifetime, acknowledged fathering the child, regardless of whether he publicly or openly held out the child as his own.”
The case is Estate of Britel, G049161.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company