Thanks to your generosity, Tamia has a fighting chance
On Monday, I wanted to send all of you a big, fat, valentine. That's because I was in a courtroom at the Daley Center and saw for myself how the $5 donations many of you sent to the Baby Tamia Legal Defense Fund is being put to use. There, Robert Fioretti, John Lower and Lonny Ben Ogus, the attorneys representing grandmother Maria McDonald and mother Carmen McDonald, walked into court fully prepared to fight the battle it will take to get Baby Tamia home.
Along the way, the Chicago lawyers are taking the lead in exposing unfair adoption practices that have torn families apart.
What happened to Baby Tamia is not an unfortunate incident. I've heard from people in Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Texas who also accuse Utah adoption agencies of ignoring fathers' rights and exploiting young, emotionally unstable single mothers.
Lawyer totally unprepared
The Illinois Compact Administrator, an agency with authority over both private and public adoptions, has halted the review of the paperwork for Tamia's adoption because of the lawsuit Maria McDonald filed in Illinois to get her grandchild back.
And, I'm truly grateful the McDonalds weren't left at the mercy of some harried attorney. Denise P. Erlich, of Cassiday, Schade and Gloor, who showed up to represent Utah's A Cherished Child Adoption Agency, came off as if some muckety-muck had called her into the office, thrust a file into her hand and shoved her into court.
Erlich talked a mile a minute, but she couldn't even tell the judge whether the couple who has physical custody of Baby Tamia lives in Utah or in some other state.
Although Circuit Court Judge Michael Murphy did not rule on the McDonalds' petition for a preliminary injunction, he made it clear that Baby Tamia wouldn't become a Baby Richard case (in which the birth parents regained custody after years of litigation).
Murphy wanted to be sure Illinois has jurisdiction over the case, even though Carmen McDonald was in Utah less than 24 hours when she allegedly signed documents stripping her of her parental rights. He asked lawyers on both sides to write a memorandum addressing this point, as well as to notify the unidentified adoptive parents the adoption is now contested.
Two Illinois assistant attorneys general were in court as observers. They were asked to contact the Utah attorney general's office about this case.
Time is not on family's side
And here's where your money is making a big difference.
Every day A Cherished Child Adoption Agency drags this lawsuit out, is a day that weighs in their favor because while Baby Tamia is away from her biological mother and grandmother, she is bonding with her adopted family. And bonding becomes a factor when judges have to decide what is in the best interest of a child.
The strategy worked in Chicago's Baby T case (in which the birth mother lost custody of her child to foster parents), and it has worked in other cases in which impoverished mothers have had to fight for their children in court.
Erlich is already getting started.
On Monday, when Murphy got down to the calendar, Erlich whined that her child has a 102-degree temperature, that her husband had to go to Philadelphia, that she's been ill and the day he set for a hearing is the one day she would be unable to be in court.
I'm praying this time stalling doesn't work.
There's no way the McDonalds could survive a drawn-out paper war filled with dueling phone calls, faxes, letters, memorandums and court filings. That is the reality of a legal system that has been allowed to run amok.
Judge lays down the law
If Maria McDonald had been unable to pay the $5,000 legal fees requested by Fioretti, Lower and Lonny Ben Ogus to get the case started, and if readers had not chipped in with nearly $5,000 additional dollars to get the case to this point, this adoption story would have been just another tale about how the rights of working-class and poor people are easily trounced.
So far, Murphy appears to understand that justice dare not wait.
"This case will take priority. If you can't do that, don't take the case," Murphy told lawyers.
I don't expect this to be an easy fight, but at least now -- thanks to many of you -- a grandmother who wants to do the right thing for her granddaughter stands a chance.
If you want to support Maria McDonald's effort to get her granddaughter back from Utah, it's not too late. Your donations may be sent to: Save Tamia Legal Fund, in care of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, 944 W. 103rd, Chicago, IL 60643.