University of Kansas

Family argues over custody of Thomas Robinson's sister

The death of Kansas forward Thomas Robinson's mother in late January grabbed the attention of KU fans all over the country.

The details that came out were startling — Lisa, 43, had lost both of her parents in the previous four weeks and was now gone, too, leaving her 7-year-old daughter, Jayla Paris, without a mother.

In the days and weeks that followed, Jayhawk Nation focused much of its sympathy on Jayla. Strangers notified the Kansas athletic department that they were interested in adopting her. KU, with clearance from the NCAA, helped Thomas start the Lisa Robinson Scholarship Fund for the benefit of Jayla's future.

Through an unforeseen tragedy that occurred in Washington, D.C., folks in the heartland were suddenly and intimately invested in the well-being of a little girl more than a thousand miles away.

Today, thanks to the generosity of many, Jayla's long-term prospects appear promising. She should have the money to attend college. But, in the short term, her situation is more complicated.

Jayla, now 8, is living with her father, James Paris, in Paris' sister's home in Southeast D.C. James Paris completed a five-year prison sentence for distribution of a controlled substance on Dec. 13, 2010 and is now on parole.

On March 2, Lisa's older stepbrother, Willatant Austin Jr., and his wife, Carrie, filed a verified complaint for custody of Jayla in the circuit court for Prince George's County in Maryland.

The Austins are represented by SNR Denton, the law firm in charge of monitoring the Lisa Robinson Scholarship Fund. In their court filing, which sets out to show that Paris is unfit to be a parent, the Austins point out that they have been married for 33 years, raised two children of their own and two sons of Willatant's deceased cousin and frequently cared for Jayla. The Austins assert that they would provide a "stable and loving home" for Jayla.

The document reveals that, from September 1999-December 2004, Paris had been convicted four times for distribution of marijuana and once for a felony charge of escape from an institution.

On May 2, Paris, through his attorney, Ed Varrone, filed a motion to dismiss the Austins' complaint. The document asserts that Maryland lacks jurisdiction to act on Jayla's behalf because Paris has not lived in Maryland since Jayla's birth and Jayla had only lived in the state since early in 2010. Jayla does still attend second grade in Maryland despite residing with Paris in Washington D.C.

In Paris' response, he refutes the notion that he is unfit to be a parent. He provides documents that show that Jayla's grades have improved and that she received an "A" in work habits; medical records that show Jayla is receiving medical care through a health-care program in Washington D.C., including dental care and counseling to address the emotional trauma resulting from Lisa's death; and Jayla's birth certificate, which features him as her father and her last name as Paris.

James Paris acknowledges that he does not have a job but says he is in a job training and placement program. He says Lisa visited him at least monthly during his incarceration and "also brought Jayla for almost every visit."

He also provides a document, signed by Lisa Robinson in July 2010, that allows for Paris' three sisters to pick up Jayla from a day-care center.

Paris and the Austins now await the ruling of the circuit court of Prince George's County.