Ruling may clear way home for Baby Tamia

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-18

Utah adoption agency broke law; baby's fate to be decided next week

Jonathan Lipman
Daily Southtown

Baby Tamia should never have been given to a Utah couple for adoption, a Cook County judge ruled Thursday, but it is uncertain if Carmen McDonald of Harvey will get her baby back right away.

A Cherished Child adoption agency broke Utah and Illinois law when it flew McDonald, 20, from Chicago to Utah on Dec. 2, had her sign away her parental rights and flew her back within 24 hours, Cook County Presiding Judge Michael Murphy said.

"I've read that it takes a village to raise a child," Murphy said. "This should have been done in the state of Illinois, to see if the family unit could have been saved, to see if the village could have saved it.

"And the village includes the state; it includes family members, churches. ... But it was done in Utah, where it was almost too late."

Attorneys will return Wednesday to argue over what should be the next step.

McDonald's attorneys say Tamia, now 6 months old, should immediately come back to Chicago. Attorneys for the adoption agency have indicated they'd like the debate to focus on what is in the best interests of the child.

Murphy, who throughout the case has pushed lawyers to hurry, told attorneys he wanted briefings by Monday for the Wednesday hearing.

"My hope is that on Wednesday I can say, 'We're going to do this tomorrow or Friday and resolve this case,'" Murphy said.

Maria McDonald, Carmen's mother and a plaintiff in the case, appeared calm when the judge ruled the adoption illegal. But she began frowning when Murphy said it would be another week before he decided Tamia's fate.

"It's been real trying and real costly. I've exhausted all of my resources," Maria McDonald said after the hearing. "I'm sure (Tamia) is laughing out loud somewhere. I'm missing her life."

Attorneys for Cherished Child declined to comment.

Tamia was 3 months old when she and her mother flew to Utah on a ticket bought by the adoption agency.

In Utah, Carmen McDonald was running a 102-degree fever, suffering from severe post-partum depression and crying uncontrollably, her attorneys say. When she told the agency she changed her mind about the adoption, the agency's director allegedly threatened to leave her stranded in Utah.

Attorneys for Cherished Child dispute that McDonald was mentally ill and say she wanted to sign the forms.

Murphy said Thursday that adoption agencies have a responsibility to counsel mothers who are considering giving up their babies. He seemed disturbed by what the agency's own attorneys described as about 31/2 hours of counseling in a Utah motel room.

"We're dealing with a family unit, and we're going to do that in a motel?" Murphy said. "(Carmen McDonald) told this person, 'I want to parent the child.' "

Murphy's decision centered around the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, a law governing interstate adoptions on the books in both Utah and Illinois.

Murphy agreed with arguments from McDonald's attorneys and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, who said child-protection agencies in both states should have been notified before Tamia was flown to Utah.

If Illinois knew of the adoption, it would have followed Illinois law, Murphy said, which provides for automatic notification of the baby's father and a 72-hour cooling-off period.

The adoption agency's attorneys argued that the law was so vague, it wasn't even clear whether it applied to McDonald or Cherished Child. The agency's director, Ruby Johnson, sought clarity from Utah and Illinois authorities on the law and was told she was doing everything right.

"On Dec. 3 (after McDonald signed away her parental rights), when Cherished Child became the sending agency, they complied with each and every requirement of the Interstate Compact Act," attorney Denise Erlich said.

McDonald's attorney, Bob Fioretti, said after the hearing that he believes Murphy will order the child back to Illinois next week, but that the fight will continue after that.

"If the judge issues the order on Wednesday, they'll do whatever they can to stop that," Fioretti said. "But I've already told Maria, 'I'll go pick up the baby, I'll go that day.' "

Jonathan Lipman may be reached at jlipman@dailysouthtown.com or (312) 782-1286.

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