Pro-father ruling gives hope for baby's return from Utah

Relates to:
Date: 2005-02-10

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

I initially thought the prospects for Baby Tamia's return were bleak, but a 2003 ruling by a Downstate judge against Utah's A Cherished Child Adoption Agency has the sweet smell of a "gotcha." Lawyers for Maria and Carmen McDonald of Chicago, the grandmother and mother of Baby Tamia, will appear in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday armed with a scathing Illinois ruling that resulted in an infant boy being returned to his biological father.

In fact, the Utah adoption agency has been forced on at least two recent occasions to return children to Illinois because it ignored the law when it placed the children for adoption.

On Monday, lawyers representing Baby Tamia's family will seek an injunction against the same agency.

"We've served them by overnight mail, by fax and every other possible way there is of getting [legal petition] in their hands," attorney Robert Fioretti told me. "We are demanding them to return the baby immediately."

Earlier case

The African-American baby was taken by her 20-year-old mother, Carmen, to Utah on Dec. 4 and was turned over to the adoption agency without the knowledge of extended family members. After arriving in Utah, Carmen changed her mind about the adoption, but allegedly was coerced and intimidated into signing away her parental rights by the agency's executive director, Ruby Johnston.

Since then, Carmen has suffered two mental breakdowns.

"I absolutely do believe it is a larger issue," Fioretti said. "We are receiving calls from all over the country regarding this agency and other agencies. When I call those agencies the [800] calls go to Utah -- the Adoption Warehouse State."

In the 2003 case, A Cherished Child Adoption Agency was forced to return a child to Illinois after a Chicago father sued the agency because officials placed the baby for adoption even though the father did not agree to terminate his parental rights. The 18-year-old mother left the hospital two days after giving birth and flew to Utah without the knowledge of the baby's father. But after leaving the baby in Utah, the mother changed her mind. Ruby Johnston, the same Ruby Johnston who allegedly coerced Carmen McDonald, told her she was a "horrible person for wanting the baby back," according to court documents.

Father has a voice

Now, here's the important part:

Before the baby was born, the court found that the father consistently told Johnston that he did not wish to have his son adopted. After assuring the father that the agency would not attempt to proceed with an adoption without his consent, A Cherished Child hauled the father into an Illinois court and tried to have his parental rights terminated.

By that time, they had already given his son to an Arizona couple. In fact, the same day the baby's mother turned him over in Utah, the agency put him on the plane to Arizona.

Thank God for a judge as wise as Solomon.

Associate Circuit Court Judge Steven H. Nardulli ruled that "Illinois law, not Utah law, applies with regard to the termination of parental rights."

He also found that there were two reasons the adoption agency directed the mother to go to Utah: to avoid the 72-hour waiting period in Illinois for the mother to surrender her rights, and to avoid the father asserting his rights.

"This court specifically finds that [the father] has made reasonable efforts to contribute to the support of the child consistent with his ability to pay by his purchase of a stroller and a car seat. . . . Before he could do more his son was stolen from him by the acts of Cherished Child," Nardulli wrote.

Not just black children

So this is not just a matter of Utah adoption agency taking advantage of young, desperate black mothers. A Cherished Child Adoption agency, and agencies like it in Utah, are transporting babies across the country to keep fathers from exercising their rights to be fathers.

Apparently, these Utah adoption agencies are equal-opportunity baby thieves.

George McCormick, a 29-year-old white man in Decatur, Ga., is fighting to get his infant daughter out of the clutches of A Child's Dream Agency, which is apparently operated by the same people who operate A Cherished Child. Despite his registering with Georgia's Putative Father Registry before the baby's birth, McCormick's rights were ignored when the baby was taken to Utah on Jan. 6, a day after her birth.

On Jan. 22, McCormick was served legal papers in which the agency accused him of abandoning his child and asked the court to terminate his parental rights. McCormick's daughter went from Georgia to Utah to California -- where she is now with an adoptive family -- in a matter of hours.

"I want my daughter to be returned," he told me. "I want to raise my daughter and take responsibility for her, and I want to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody again. Nobody should have to go through this. It is hard to go home and see an empty crib."

Is this a gross violation of a father's rights? I think so. I really do.

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