Lawyers' stall tactics drain funds of Baby Tamia's family

Relates to:
Date: 2005-03-10

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

I sat in Judge Michael Murphy's courtroom at the Daley Center on Wednesday and witnessed why so many poor and working-class people don't get justice. They can't afford it. They may be able to file a complaint, even hire a lawyer.

BUT THE ONGOING LEGAL BATTLE BEING WAGED BY MARIA MCDONALD TO GET HER GRANDDAUGHTER BACK FROM A UTAH ADOPTION AGENCY IS A CASE STUDY OF HOW THE JUSTICE SYSTEM FAILS POOR AND WORKING-CLASS AMERICANS.

AS YOU MAY KNOW, MCDONALD'S DAUGHTER, CARMEN MCDONALD, FLEW TO UTAH IN DECEMBER ON A PLANE TICKET PAID FOR BY A CHERISHED CHILD ADOPTION AGENCY, AND SURRENDERED HER PARENTAL RIGHTS TO INFANT DAUGHTER TAMIA.

SINCE UTAH IS A STATE WHERE THE SURRENDER IS IMMEDIATE, CARMEN MCDONALD, WHO IS SAID TO HAVE SUFFERED FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION, WAS SENT BACK TO CHICAGO IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS AFTER SHE TURNED OVER TAMIA. ACCORDING TO A LAWSUIT SHE AND HER MOTHER FILED IN THIS CASE, A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ADOPTION AGENCY THREATENED TO LEAVE CARMEN STRANDED IN UTAH WHEN SHE TRIED TO BACK OUT OF THE ADOPTION.

THE BABY'S GRANDMOTHER DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE ADOPTION UNTIL SHE WAS CONTACTED BY A POLICE OFFICER IN NEW ORLEANS, WHO FOUND CARMEN WANDERING THE STREETS, INCOHERENT. IF THAT ISN'T ENOUGH TO MAKE LEGAL AUTHORITIES THINK SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT ABOUT THIS ADOPTION, LAWYERS HIRED BY THE GRANDMOTHER UNCOVERED A DOCUMENT SHOWING THE AGENCY VIOLATED TWO PROVISIONS OF THE INTERSTATE COMPACT ACT, AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN ALL 50 STATES THAT REGULATES DOMESTIC ADOPTIONS.

LAWYERS USE SLY TACTICS

OBVIOUSLY, THERE'S PLENTY FOR LAWYERS TO ARGUE ABOUT IN THIS CASE. BUT TO WATCH HIGH-PRICED ATTORNEYS FOR THE ADOPTION AGENCY PLAY DUMB ABOUT THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE DOCUMENT THAT WAS SENT TO THEIR CLIENT BY THE UTAH DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES IS FRUSTRATING.

AS THESE LAWYERS PLAY LEGAL GAMES, MARIA MCDONALD, AN INTAKE COORDINATOR AT LORETTO HOSPITAL, IS WATCHING THE CLOCK -- AND HER BANK ACCOUNT. THANKS TO THE GENEROSITY OF READERS AND WORSHIPPERS AT CHICAGO'S SWEET HOLY SPIRIT CHURCH, ALONG WITH WHAT MARIA COULD PULL OUT OF HER RETIREMENT ACCOUNT, SHE HAS A FIGHTING CHANCE.

BUT EVERY TIME THE LAWYERS FOR THE ADOPTION AGENCY FIND A NEW WAY TO AVOID THE MEAT IN THIS CASE, MARIA MCDONALD IS PUT AT A DISADVANTAGE. ADOPTIVE PARENTS JANE AND JOHN DOE, WHO HAVE PHYSICAL CUSTODY OF TAMIA, AREN'T MISSING AN HOUR OF WORK DEFENDING THEIR RIGHT TO KEEP THE CHILD.

AND THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ADOPTION AGENCY, RUBY JOHNSTON, HASN'T MISSED A BEAT SEPARATING DESPERATE MOTHERS FROM THEIR INFANTS. BUT MARIA MCDONALD, A WORKING-CLASS GRANDMOTHER WHO IS FIGHTING TO HOLD HER FAMILY TOGETHER, HAS ALREADY MISSED FOUR DAYS OF WORK MAKING COURT APPEARANCES.

OTHER SIDE HAS MORE MONEY

AND HERE'S THE CATCH-22: IF THE GRANDMOTHER SKIPPED THE COURT HEARINGS, HOW LONG WOULD IT BE BEFORE THE LAWYERS FOR THE ADOPTION AGENCY TRY TO TWIST HER ABSENCE INTO A NEGATIVE?

ON WEDNESDAY, JUDGE MICHAEL MURPHY MOVED TO REVOKE THE LEGAL PLACEMENT OF TAMIA WITH THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS, PUTTING THEM ON NOTICE THE ADOPTION WAS IN JEOPARDY. BUT THERE WAS NOT AN ORDER TO PHYSICALLY REMOVE TAMIA FROM UTAH AND RETURN HER TO CHICAGO.

"I'M TRYING TO HOLD DOWN MY ANGER," MARIA MCDONALD SAID AFTER THE HEARING. "I HAVE A LOT OF ANXIETY. IT IS PRETTY HARD. I'M DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN FROM MOMENT TO MOMENT.

"IT'S A HARDSHIP, BECAUSE I DON'T GET PAID WHEN I'M OFF WORK," SHE SAID. "THIS MAKES THE FOURTH TIME, AND EACH TIME THE OTHER LAWYERS ARE NOT PREPARED. THE LEVEL OF DECEIT FROM THE ADOPTION AGENCY AND THEIR ATTORNEYS IS AMAZING TO ME. I DON'T KNOW WHY THEY ARE DRAGGING IT OUT," SHE SAID.

"I'M LOSING SO MUCH. NOT JUST THE TIME OFF WORK AND THE MENTAL FRUSTRATION AND HAVING TO GO TO COURT. IT'S COSTING ME A LOT OF MONEY IN ATTORNEY'S FEES BECAUSE THERE IS NO MONEY. WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THE ADOPTION AGENCY HAS THE MONEY TO INVEST IN LEGAL FEES. IF THEY LOSE, IT WON'T COST THEM ANYTHING. I STAND TO LOSE A GRANDCHILD."

THIS COULD BE A VERY LONG BATTLE

ROBERT FIORETTI, ONE OF THE LAWYERS REPRESENTING THE MCDONALDS, SAID IT APPEARS THE ADOPTION AGENCY IS "WILLING TO FIGHT THE CASE AT ALL COSTS."

"IF THEIR LAWYERS CANNOT ADMIT TO THE GENUINENESS OF A DOCUMENT, THEY ARE PLAYING GAMES. THE ADOPTION AGENCY IS DOING WHATEVER IT CAN TO AVOID THE CURRENT LAW IN ILLINOIS BECAUSE LAWS IN UTAH ARE SO LAX, IT IS AN ADOPTION WAREHOUSE. I DON'T WANT TO GET INTO A BATTLE IN UTAH, BUT THIS CASE COULD BE HEADING UP TO THE U.S. SUPREME COURT."

AT THE START OF THE BABY TAMIA CASE IN JANUARY, MURPHY WARNED ATTORNEYS THAT THE CUSTODY HEARING WOULD NOT BECOME ANOTHER BABY RICHARD CASE. AT THAT TIME, DENISE P. ERLICH, THE LAWYER REPRESENTING A CHERISHED CHILD ADOPTION AGENCY OF UTAH, WAS MAKING EXCUSES ABOUT WHY SHE WAS NOT READY TO PROCEED.

GIVEN THAT ERLICH IS NOW JOINED BY TWO OTHER LAWYERS, YOU'D THINK THE CASE WOULD BE ROLLING.

BUT THAT WOULD BE TOO MUCH LIKE RIGHT. THE WHEELS OF JUSTICE DON'T ROLL. THEY GO "KA-CHING, KA-CHING."

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