December 29th, 2009
05:18 PM ET
11 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. Reggie

    I hate to judge, but Levy Johnson isn't fit for fatherhood.

    December 29, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  2. Terry - Indiana

    And the reason we need to know all of this is................?

    December 29, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  3. T'SAH from Virginia

    The FACT that Levi's mother has a DRUG problem should not have any bearing on SHARED CUSTODY!!! I am sure LEVI is MATURE ENOUGH not to leave the child with his mother ALONE in the first place – especially because he would be under a continuous microscope!!

    I think they were BOTH immature in the first place by not indulging in protective sex – even though ONE of them was raised to practice "abstinence"!!

    I am sure Levi made a lot of money 'modeling' and is very capable of taking care of his child.... GIVE HIM SOME CREDIT and this case should not be all about SARAH, BRISTOL and the rest of the PALIN family!!!

    December 29, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  4. Annie, Atlanta

    I hope they can work out what will ultimately be the best for this little boy, who needs both of his parents, because that's all that really matters.

    December 29, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  5. Lance Woodward

    Comments that Levi Johnson made six/seven weeks ago during the beyond the call pr campaign about his impending nude/frontal photos for a magazine led me to conclude that he hasn't a clue about being an adult, let alone a responsible adult.

    December 29, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  6. pete

    l.johnston has limited resources and is only trying to make a buck with what he has going for him at the moment, he should not give up his rights to see his son.

    December 29, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  7. Lisa in MN

    Very Palin like. Like mother like daughter, desguise it as concern. This is just another reason why selfish Sarah should have never excepted the VP bid on McCains ticket.

    December 29, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  8. Terry from West Texas

    Why didn't Sarah Palin speak to her daughter about maintaining her virginity until marriage? Doesn't Sarah Palin support teenage abstinence? Don't Conservative sources assure us that abstinence education is very effective?

    Don't Conservatives tell us that it takes a mother AND a father to raise a healthy child? Shouldn't Sarah Palin make a public statement urging the two teenagers to marry for the sake of the child?

    Doesn't anyone in the Palin family own a Bible? I guess not.

    December 29, 2009 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  9. Dan from Florida Keys

    Levi is absolutely correct about sarah palin being a vindictive person, look how she went after that state trooper, you can see it in her eyes, a very mean and petty little woman, could you imagine if he went to her house for thanksgiving, when she invited him on the oprah show, you know darn well, she would have locked him up in the basement until after the 2012 elections, he knows too many secrets about her, my God, could you imagine her in the white house. I read on some blogs, she is going to ask John McCain to be her running mate, could you imagine, President sarah palin, vice President John McCain, I hope he has enough sense to turn her down.
    Be careful Levi, watch your back.

    December 29, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  10. PaulC

    Everyone likes a circus and her mother enjoys the limelight so bring it on. And what nerve...a 19 year old saying that a 19 year old is too young.
    After the circus leaves town and the lights are turned off there is no doubt that she will get custody but that is the American way.

    December 29, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  11. Chipster

    Personal matter – not our business.

    December 29, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  12. Zion

    Why do we keep highlighting failure?

    December 29, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  13. Mary Kay

    What a circus... Sorry for Tripp. Not a fan of either of them (Johnston or Palin) – but I have to agree with Johnston on this one. He would lose everything if this session were closed. Let the agreement be open and honest.

    December 29, 2009 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  14. nyarboo

    i think that these two could have probably worked it out had it not been for out of the ordinary circumstances.. can you imagine being their age and dealing with an unexpected pregnancy while at the same time thrust into the forefront of a presidential campaign? i'm not saying that levi and bristol are perfect or mature, but i do have compassion for them. i have no idea how i would have dealt with everything at their age... especially if one of my parents had been sarah palin!!

    December 29, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  15. Abraham Borbor

    It is good thing God never made it possible for Sarah the vandal to make it to Washinton who knows who her victims would be. Senator Macain would never admit but this is worst mistake he ever made in his life by choosing Sarah from Alaska as a running mate. She made all this up to continue discrediting Levi's mom. Good boy Levi for not dumping your mom and remember America will stand by you.

    December 29, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  16. mjm

    This is ridiculous. This is a private matter and should be kept as such. There is a child involved....2 if you include Bristol.

    Johnston has no job, was in Play Girl, his mother just got out of prison and is under house arrest.

    What else is there to discuss? Keep it private, protect the child and give custody to the mother.

    December 29, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  17. I Love My President!

    A very wise, insightful and mature move on Levi's part! The judge made the correct ruling considering the circumstances! Sarah Palin thinks she is so smart and above all others if she just pretends to forget all that is "A-Okay" with her when it's a benefit to her.. that everyone else will forget how stupid she is now, too! It's high time that woman be taken down a few notches with her using and abuse upon others! She's more dangerous to the child's mental and emotional health than anyone else in that crowd!

    Sarah Palin is one sick and evil human.

    You can do it... keep up the fight Levi!!

    December 29, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  18. me - the real one

    Levi needs to grow up. Period.

    Good for Bristol.

    December 29, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  19. sunshine

    Tripp's best insterest is to have a mother AND a father that LOVE and support him.

    December 29, 2009 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  20. Hendrik

    What a whacked out family. They are truly representative of the lunatic Republican party. Every Republican stinks, everyone of them. No exceptions.

    December 29, 2009 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  21. Louis

    DEAR SARAH: How do you feel about "abstinance-only" programs now?

    December 29, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  22. K

    Good! i hope she gets it. It seems as though with the way things are going she is best for Tripp. Daddy isn't taking responsibility the adult way and running around telling the public stories. Plus, we don't need another drug abuser in alaska. Way to go Bristol. You have proven to be an Adult.

    December 29, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  23. Barbara Gwin

    I'm no fan of Sarah Palin. But this poor girl has been through so much. Why would the judge deny her a little privacy?

    December 29, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  24. manny

    so much for family values conservative style. lol
    hypocrites, leaders of the dumb and noisy.

    December 29, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  25. Jasmine in Germany

    Johnston is the father of the child and is entitled to 50% custody. Period. He is not a criminal. It is very sad that the Palins have decided to ignore reality, not to mention laws, and virtues once again, to get their own way. Abuse of power? What's the problem? If the Palins are denying the paternity, I credit their legal efforts. If they accept the paternity, then I must say their legal efforts are certainly in poor taste. It is wrong for a child to not have access to a living father. This is a normal civil battle and should not be treated otherwise. International law mandates that fathers have rights, too. But, of course Sarah sees herself as above the law and an exception (and little does she know about laws). Tsk, tsk.

    December 29, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
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