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Bloomington attorney Tristan Bullington, left, stands with his client, Amber Buck, earlier this year at the McLean County Law and Justice Center. A federal judge ordered Wednesday that the lawyer for Michael Cadena pay Bullington $750 in legal fees related to the controversial custody case.

BLOOMINGTON — The legal roadblocks that have delayed the return of a Massachusetts man to McLean County for a family court hearing need to be removed, a judge said Monday, before issuing a subpoena to the sheriff to appear at the next hearing.

The long-running custody battle between Michael Cadena and Amber Buck over custody of their 4-year-old son, Michael Jr., has come to a grinding halt while authorities figure out how to serve an arrest warrant for direct civil contempt on Cadena for refusing to return to Illinois with the child.

As of Monday, Cadena had not been arrested.

Buck's lawyer, Tristan Bullington, said he has consulted with staff at the McLean County Sheriff's Department, who said the issue appears to be with warrant's connection to a civil rather than a criminal case. Civil warrants cannot be entered into a national database of criminal data, including arrest warrants, accessible by all law enforcement agencies, said Bullington.

Sheriff Jon Sandage was not available for comment Monday, but in remarks after the warrant was first issued, he said he expected Cadena to be brought to Illinois by a private prisoner transport firm that handles interstate inmate pick-ups.

Hill declined to issue a second directive requested by Bullington, ordering the sheriff's department to go to Massachusetts. Hill set a Sept. 27 hearing for Sandage to provide information on how the warrant can be enforced.

Cadena also is set to be sentenced that day on the criminal contempt charge.

Bullington suggested that Cadena be required to reimburse the county for the cost of bringing his son back to Illinois.     

In addition to the criminal contempt, Cadena also has been found in civil contempt for failing to comply with the court's orders. The only way to purge himself of that charge is to bring the boy to Illinois, a requirement he has refused to fulfill so far.

"He could end up sitting in custody indefinitely," Hill said of the civil contempt.

The judge expressed frustration with the more than 10-month delay in the custody case that started in 2014 with Cadena's petition to seek custody of the child. The father has alleged that Buck emotionally and physically abused the child during the time she was using drugs. 

Cadena left the state with the boy shortly after he was awarded custody in February 2017. Buck's legal rights to parent the child were later restored.

She is on probation on drug charges.

Hill acknowledged that her December retirement will come before the case is resolved, adding she will consider Bullington's suggestion that the case be reassigned to another judge before December to allow for hearings to be set that cannot be scheduled during Hill's remaining tenure.

Still pending is a ruling by a Massachusetts judge on whether that state should have emergency jurisdiction in the matter. Cadena's East Coast lawyers argued the child's ongoing care by therapists should not be disrupted by moving the boy to Illinois to stay with his mother as ordered by Hill.

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Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny

McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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