August 29th 2008
BY NICOLE BODE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Kareem Williams is fighting to win child he fathered with Tenisha Davis - now 4-year-old Seasia (below) - given up for adoption at birth.
In a tragic tug of war that could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, a Staten Island father is desperately fighting for the young daughter surrendered for adoption without his knowledge.
On one side is 21-year-old Kareem Williams, whose four-year battle is at a turning point. On the other is the Queens couple who have cared for the girl since birth.
In the middle is 4-year-old Seasia D., as she's called in court papers, blissfully ignorant of the turmoil swirling around her.
"It feels like hell, trying to get my daughter back for so long," said Williams, a nursing student. "That's my child that's gone. That's my blood."
The drama, detailed in court decisions, began in 2003 when Williams, then 16, had sex with 13-year-old Tenisha Davis at a Staten Island church.
Davis, a former foster-care child, got pregnant. Her adoptive mother spurned Williams' offers to help raise the child and threatened to send Tenisha back to foster care unless she gave up the baby for adoption.
By the time Seasia was born April 1, 2004, she had been promised to a Queens couple - an MTA inspector and his wife - through Family Focus Adoption Services.
When Davis signed away her parental rights, the agency didn't give her a lawyer or legal counseling, in violation of state regulations. No one asked Williams for his consent.
The adoptive parents - he's an inspector with the transit agency's counterterrorism task force, and she's a social worker - took the child straight home from the hospital. The Daily News is withholding the names of the pair - he's 41 and she's 42 - because they were not included in the court papers.
The legal skirmish began a few weeks after Seasia's birth when Williams filed a paternity and custody application.
Lower courts ruled in favor of Williams' rights as a father, but this summer, the Court of Appeals, the state's highest, reversed those decisions.
That opened the door for the Queens couple, who paid $15,000 in adoption fees and more in untold legal costs, to go ahead with an adoption petition.
"She's their child," said the couple's lawyer, Deana Balahtsis. "They were there when she was born, and they are the only parents that she has known."
The biological mom wants the couple to have the child. "I didn't have a home when I was little. I want her to do better," said Davis, 18, a high school senior on Long Island. "I couldn't raise my baby at 14."
Still, she worries that despite the couple's promises, she could be shut out of Seasia's life since she unwittingly agreed to a closed adoption.
That's just one of the problems with a process that may have been badly botched.
There are accusations of conflict of interest, as Balahtsis first represented Davis and then took on the adoptive parents as clients.
Balahtsis shares an address and phone number with Family Focus lawyer Frederick Macgovern, but says she's just a tenant.
Both deny any impropriety.
"If Family Focus had done anything improper or illegal, the Court of Appeals would not have reversed seven-zip," Macgovern said.
Lower courts slammed Family Focus, saying Davis signed adoption papers "under duress." The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting Davis at one point accused Williams of rape, though she later recanted and no charges were filed.
The end of the road for Williams could be Monday, the deadline for appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If he doesn't come up with $4,000 to cover printing and filing fees, his case is officially over.
"No one should be able to manipulate the process in such a way that a father's right is deprived. That's exactly what happened here. And it happened on so many different levels," said Williams' lawyer, Janet Brown.
"This is a very sad story."