Tamia may be in mother's arms today

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-24

Judge orders baby's return to Chicago from Utah

STEVE PATTERSON
The Chicago Sun-Times

It was a smile that just wouldn't go away.

Time and again Wednesday, Carmen McDonald was seen not with the sullen look she's worn for weeks, but instead with a smile.

Cook County Judge Michael Murphy ordered her 6-month-old baby, Tamia, released from the control of a Utah adoption agency, with the expectation she'll soon be back with her family in Chicago.

Family supporters will join Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials on a plane this morning to get Tamia.

Her mother likely will be holding her by this afternoon.

Though DCFS officials will serve as a friend of the court and take control of Tamia, the baby's grandmother, Maria McDonald, is expected to gain custody today, with Carmen moving back home and DCFS officials conducting regular home visits.

"I'm so relieved," the 20-year-old McDonald said. "I ain't felt this good in a long time."

Laws violated

Murphy's ruling put an end to a three-month battle for Tamia, as McDonald alleged Utah-based A Cherished Child Adoption Agency manipulated her into giving up control of her baby.

McDonald's attorneys credited Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell for shining light on the family's plight. Ultimately, the Illinois and Utah attorneys general and Gov. Blagojevich got involved.

The situation was compounded last week when Tamia's prospective parents, Stephen Kusaba and Lenna Habbeshaw, were arrested at their home on drug charges.

But Murphy said that played no role in his decision ordering Tamia from Utah to Illinois. Instead, he said, violations of the federal Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children caused him to render the adoption invalid.

"The ICPC must be complied with . . . and failure to do so voids all acts," Murphy said. "I'm placing the parties back in time."

He said "there are issues to address" with Carmen McDonald, admittedly bipolar and suffering from post-partum depression when she gave Tamia away, and he said a DCFS investigation revealed things that "do concern me, though I do believe the child should be brought back here."

'A lot to do'

A Cherished Child's attorneys, Denise Erlich and Bruce Wall, repeatedly asked Murphy to consider that they "did not knowingly, intentionally or wilfully violate" interstate adoption rules and "did not deliberately try to circumvent any Illinois or Utah laws."

Murphy refused to rule on that, continuing the case until April 7.

"We have to, at some point, stop agencies from doing things like this," Maria McDonald said.

Attorney Robert Fioretti, who represented the family with Lonny Ben Ogus and John Lower, added "we're going to try to put them out of business any way we can."

Utah officials said they're now investigating A Cherished Child and its practices, given this incident, but until it is complete, it can continue to adopt children.

In a letter, Blagojevich said he's "personally distressed" by the agency's practices and the Illinois attorney general is taking steps to ban it from practicing in Illinois.

Though much work will be ahead for those agencies, Carmen McDonald sighed -- and smiled -- in relief, eagerly anticipating the return of her baby.

"We've got a lot to do," she said. "But we've got a lifetime to do it."

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