December 29th, 2009
05:18 PM ET
6 months ago

Bristol Palin-Levi Johnston child custody fight goes public

An Alaska judge has denied Bristol Palin's request that her court fight with ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston over custody of their son be kept private to avoid a 'media circus.'
An Alaska judge has denied Bristol Palin's request that her court fight with ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston over custody of their son be kept private to avoid a 'media circus.'

(CNN) - An Alaska judge has denied Bristol Palin's request that her court fight with ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston over custody of their son be kept private to avoid a "media circus."

The daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is seeking full custody of 1-year-old Tripp, contending that Johnston is too immature to be a responsible father and that his mother's felony drug conviction makes her a danger to the child.

Bristol Palin filed for full custody in November, but Johnston is seeking shared custody. Both parents are 19. Their teenage relationship fell under an intense public spotlight after Sen. John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in August 2008.

Court documents, now unsealed, were published online Monday by the Anchorage Daily News.

Johnston joined the family at the Republican National Convention after the campaign confirmed that Bristol, then 17, was five months pregnant with his child. The couple broke off their engagement about two months after their son's birth in December 2008.

He has asked that the case conducted in public to protect him from Sarah Palin, whom he said was "powerful, politically ambitious and has a reputation for being extremely vindictive." But Bristol Palin's request that the case be sealed said public proceedings "will turn this custody case into a media circus which is not in Tripp's best interest."

"In this day and age of the Internet, media stories remain available for years, even decades, after they are first published, and anything printed in the media (whether it is true or not) will be available to Tripp when he is old enough to read," Palin said in a sworn affidavit.

She said Johnston wanted a public case so he could "continue to make a spectacle of this custody dispute for his own self-promotion." Johnston was set to take part in a reality show in Alaska, she said.

"I do not believe that it would be in Tripp's best interest for Levi's reality show to be filming this case as it unfolds, or for Levi Johnston to be capitalizing off of this custody case through his reality show," Palin said.

Johnston's sworn statement said he feared what Sarah Palin might do against him if the case were kept secret.

"I really think that closing the court could make this matter very uncivil and potentially open the door for poor influences on Bristol and her attorney that may be extremely inappropriate and potentially harmful to Tripp," he said.

While Johnston said his former girlfriend would never be malicious toward him, "her mother is powerful, politically ambitious and has a reputation for being extremely vindictive."

"So, I think a public case might go a long way in reducing Sarah Palin's instinct to attack and allow the real parties in this litigation, Bristol and I, to work things out a lot more peacefully than we could if there is any more meddling from Sarah Palin," Johnston said.

Bristol Palin's affidavit said her mother is not involved in the custody case, except as a grandmother. But Johnston's lawyer, Rex Butler, said in his own affidavit that his client does not trust closed proceedings because "Sarah Palin is known to deal forcefully with those she perceives as political enemies."

"He feels Sarah Palin, through her lawyer, under the guise of Bristol Palin's name, would run rough shod over his very bones," Butler said.

The judge's ruling, signed last week, concludes that Bristol Palin "failed to demonstrate that this case involves 'matters of a sensitive and highly personal nature' of such a magnitude that 'protection of the party's name outweighs the public's interest in disclosure.' "

Her filing for full custody argued that Levi was "not ready for the demands of parenthood and the sacrifices that would entail to a 19-year-old aspiring actor/model."

"Levi remains without a regular job or steady source of income," the petition states. While he's not enrolled in school "to learn a trade or earn a degree," he has made money by selling stories about his son and the Palins to news outlets and engaged in "risque modeling for Playgirl magazine," it states.

The photos published last month showed Johnston in semi-nude poses, not with the full frontal nudity that's Palin's filing cited.

The petition cited a series of messages posted on the online social network Twitter.com as evidence that Johnston "may have substance abuse issues, based on statements he has made about seeking 'weed.' "

Johnston's response said he does not have a Twitter account "and has made no such statements about the use of marijuana."

But Palin's harshest attack was on Levi's mother, Sherry Johnston, who pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge earlier this year.

Palin asked that the paternal grandmother be barred from having any unsupervised visitation with Tripp. Her petition said she "may re-offend, keep medications around the house which could be accessible to the baby, have illegal drug users come to the house (or she could take the baby in her car during a drug sale)."

Palin also said that since Sherry Johnston "could fall asleep or be too drowsy to appropriately monitor the baby."

"She is also a chronic pain patient and undergoes daily, regular and sustained narcotic infusions," Palin's petition said.

Johnston's response said his mother's "chronic pain condition is currently being managed in coordination with the Department of Corrections."

"Sherry Johnston will not be left to take care of the minor child alone, but will simply be there to assist to the best of her ability," Johnston's filing said.

She was released from an Alaska prison last week to serve the remainder of her three year sentence under house arrest at her Wasilla, Alaska home. She must wear an ankle bracelet for electronic monitoring, Corrections Department spokesman Richard Schmitz said.


Filed under: Bristol Palin • Levi Johnston
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Robin

    Oh yes, let's get Bristol up there so the "tolerant: liberals can beat her up.

    Levi is a loser after his 15 minutes of fame. His mother was convicted of drug distribution and is under house arrest for 4 years.

    Levi has posed for Playgirl and went on a nationwide "kiss and tell" tour.

    Bristol is right to want this private.

    December 29, 2009 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  2. Southern mudsucker

    She looks as stupid as her mom.

    December 29, 2009 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  3. Republicans are the American Taliban

    So Much For Abstinence!! Why don't they both join the military?

    December 29, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  4. JR

    Does anyone think Bristol is a stupid as she looks in her photos?

    December 29, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  5. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    Too bad Bristol, you have a mother that thinks more of making a quick buck and a name for herself, than she does of her own children.

    Palin was only interested in Levi when you needed a baby daddy so folks would not think you were a tramp that slept around with any teenage male and she needed to use both of you as props for her "santity of marriage" campaign and her "pro-life" plea.

    But wait, 'pro-life" was why she drug Trigg along like a Cabbage Patch doll as a stage prop, you, Tripp and Levi were doing double duty.

    Better ask that grifter quitter rogue(yes it does mean tramp) you have as a "mother" for a bigger cut of the cash take!

    December 29, 2009 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  6. VA HIGHSCHOOL STUDENT

    Hey Bristol,

    If Levi was so bad, why the heck were you dating him in the first place? I'm in high school and I for one try to know who I'm dating before I date them.

    December 29, 2009 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  7. Levi is a Scumbag!

    NO way should he be allowed near his son. And neither should his mother! This boy deserves better than these two losers!

    December 29, 2009 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  8. Clint, Lynnwood Wa.

    Thank your mother Bristol, see is the one that put you in front of the media circus to begin with. I just really feel sorry for Tripp.

    December 29, 2009 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  9. Abstinence Only sex-ed plans are doomed to failure

    America can't get enough of Levi Johnston. By the Palins attempting to deny the father his visitation rights, Levi will get extra publicity which will boost his reality TV show and thus boost the economy. Levi is a highly paid porn model and product endorser thus his finances are much stronger than Bristol's. You would have to be nuts to not have heard about Levi's product endorsement TV ads; they were widely reported.

    December 29, 2009 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  10. Mike Dallas

    "In this day and age of the Internet, media stories remain available for years, even decades, after they are first published, and anything printed in the media (whether it is true or not) will be available to Tripp when he is old enough to read,"

    Not to worry Bristol, since his grandmother has not read anything other than a drive-up window menu and only comprehended that because of the pictures, the poor little fellow is swimming around in a very shallow gene pool and he will be illiterate most of his life or not be able to remember any of the stories he read should he become literate!

    December 29, 2009 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  11. Carol

    It would seem that the little baby needs both Mother and Father in his life. They should share custody, they are both 19 yrs. old. They made him and they should both take care of his needs.

    December 29, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  12. Xavier

    Palin, Palin, Palin. This woman and her family are not plitical leaders, they are a reality show of the worst kind. Do you GOP people really want this woman and her family in the white house? Might as well put Brittney Spears in the oval office, it would be about the same amount of drama and stupidity.

    December 29, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  13. CBR

    What a shame that this conflict is now going public. Johnston and Palin should be allowed to work this out behind the scenes and without their parents. It their responsibility to provide a strong, supportive base upon which to move forward. They produced a child who needs both his mother and father in his life.

    Levi needs to grow up now. The media has given him an ego by continually putting him in the public eye. Shame on all of those involved in this whole mess.

    December 29, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  14. Debby

    What an idiot this judge is. He ruled against the mother's request and would rather see a circus with the playgirl dad of the year. He must be a liberal.

    December 29, 2009 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  15. Idiot_Pelosi

    Levi: You better watch yourself; momma bear, Palin will fight to protect her cubs, you betcha.

    December 29, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  16. unprotected

    maybe the child will grow up and read this..... your grandmother is nuts.

    December 29, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  17. Jim

    Family values at its best.

    December 29, 2009 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  18. Alex

    Sounds like Bristol should get the kid, with visiting rights for Levi. He does sound like a loser.

    December 29, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  19. David Ross

    Why should she suffer becomes folks do not care for her mother. This Private issue should stay private!

    December 29, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  20. coolfl33

    This is pathetic.
    This isn't between Sarah and Levi. This is between Levi and Bristol
    We all know why the judge did this and it is pathetic.

    December 29, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  21. David

    This is a private issue that should stay out of media... there nothing to be gained here!

    December 29, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  22. Lynn

    The poor child, caught between 2 disfunctional families.

    December 29, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  23. ras

    now we see the real Palins at play...they are nothing but oppurtunist...Thanks Levi for telling it like it is...very vinditive this sara palin...

    December 29, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  24. Mark, Phoenix

    She needs to learn to feign at least a modicum of thought for the cameras. The best actors in the world couldn't project such a modicum of synapses firing as does dear Bristol. The personification of vacuosity. I pray it doesn't come naturally, poor girl.

    December 29, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  25. Randy

    Yes please keep it quiet he dont want to here anymore about the palins we all ready heard all we want to about her mom.

    December 29, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
1 2 3