Tangled adoption suit heads to trial


'Let's get this taken care of,' judge admonishes feuding couples after hearing in bitter dispute

Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune

Wellsville residents Scott and Karen Banks are the owners of Focus on Children, an adoption agency at the heart of a February federal indictment alleging fraud and immigration violations.

The indictment alleges that the Bankses, the agency and employees tricked and coerced Samoan birth parents into giving their children to the agency for adoption, then falsely told adoptive parents that the youngsters were orphans.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty and are free pending trial. The agency ceased operations in Utah earlier this summer.

LOGAN - A judge has scheduled a February trial in a dispute over who should be able to adopt a toddler from China - a Wellsville couple or a Kansas City-area couple.

"Let's get this taken care of so this child can know where she's going to spend the rest of her life," 1st District Judge Clint Judkins said of the girl, who turned 3 earlier this month.

The judge ordered both sides to arrange for a home study and prepare for the three-day trial, set to begin Feb 5.

Judkins' order came at the end of a Monday hearing in the bitter dispute. He denied a request to turn over the girl immediately to Mary Frances and Curry Kirkpatrick, saying he needed more information before deciding who should have custody of the child.

The Kirkpatricks arranged to adopt the girl, who they named Amelya, through Focus on Children, a Utah agency operated by Scott and Karen Banks. While the adoption was pending, the Overland Park, Kan., couple learned Mary Frances was pregnant with twins.

Soon after Curry Kirkpatrick flew to China in December 2005 to finalize the adoption and bring Amelya back, problems arose. Mary Frances was suffering from severe postpartum depression and the girl was exhibiting "destructive behavior" toward the twins, the Kirkpatricks say.

The two say they asked the Bankses to take temporary guardianship but changed their minds within a few weeks and revoked the arrangement. The Bankses refused to return the girl, who they named Amanda, and filed a petition to adopt her themselves.

At Monday's hearing, the Kirkpatricks' attorney, Steven Kuhnhausen, said the Bankses have no legal right to the girl. He also said he believed the Utah couple will go to prison "for they what they did in Samoa" and will be unable to care for the child.

The Bankses and their agency are charged in Utah's federal court with fraud and immigration violations connected to adoptions of Samoan children.

Ann Wassermann, the attorney for the Bankses in the adoption case, angrily accused Kuhnhausen of numerous misstatements.

She alleged that Curry Kirkpatrick initially told the Bankses that Mary Frances hated the girl. Wassermann also said the Kirkpatricks had no contact with the toddler for almost a year, until May 2007, when they heard about the federal indictment.

"It's really a stretch to call them parents," Wassermann said.

An attorney appointed to represent the girl pointed out the two couples have differing parenting styles, and asked that the child be placed permanently with one family as soon as possible.

Since July, Mary Frances Kirkpatrick has flown to Utah to see the girl for a few hours at a time. The judge said Monday those visits can now be extended to overnight stays.


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