ORLANDO, Fla. – After working to pass a Florida law allowing grandparents visitation rights, the parents of a missing Orlando woman were denied their petition to see their twin grandsons. A judge upheld the decision in appellate court this week.
Michelle Parker has been missing since 2011. Her twin boys live with their father, Parker's ex-fiance, Dale Smith, the only person of interest in the missing persons case.
Parker's mother, Yvonne Stewart, was an advocate for the 2015 legislation that established visitation rights for grandparents under certain circumstances, including if both parents are dead or missing, or if one of the parents is dead and the other parent is a convicted felon.
After the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, Stewart was among the first to file a petition under the new law to see her grandchildren.
In 2016, an Orange County judge dismissed the Stewart's petition to see her 10-year-old grandchildren. Stewart said on Sunday in a Facebook post that an appellate court judge upheld the 2016 decision.
"If Mr. Smith is a good father, and Mr. Smith proclaims his innocence in anything involving Michelle Parker, then why would he not let Yvonne Stewart visit her grandkids, under certain circumstances such as supervised visitation?" former Judge Belvin Perry said, who is representing Stewart pro bono.
“I hate how hard we worked to get the law passed only to never speak one word in court,” Stewart wrote.
Stewart said she will now have to wait until 2024, when the twins are 18, to see them.
"Those little people need to know there's a whole family of so many friends and family that care about them, that they don't even know about it," Stewart said.
Parker, who was 33 when she vanished, would be 40 years old Jan. 20.
The mother of three was reported missing in November 2011. One of the last times the young mother was seen alive was with Smith on an episode of "The People's Court" recorded Nov. 17, 2011. Records show the couple had a history of domestic violence before separating.
Smith was convicted of felony battery and has been charged with other crimes, records show. He was never charged with crimes related to Parker's disappearance.
Stephen Calvacca, Smith's attorney, said the felony conviction "just didn't count" with the grandparent's visitation law, because it happened in 1997, six years before he met Parker and did not happen in front of children.
Calvacca said the statute was not meant to apply to any past domestic violence convictions.
Stewart said she talked to Florida lawmakers Monday and discussed adding language to the Grandparents' Rights law that says it doesn't matter when the violence by the parent was committed and it doesn't matter to whom.
"I'll fight until there's absolutely nothing I can do," Stewart said.