$200,000 lawsuit won by adoption agency here

Date: 1986-06-19

Adrienne Drell
Chicago Sun-Times

A federal jury yesterday ruled Easter House, a controversial Chicago-based adoption agency, was entitled to nearly $200,000 in damages from three Illinois state officials and a social worker who left and started her own adoption service.

A six-member jury deliberated for more than four hours before deciding that the four conspired to violate the constitutional rights of the agency. The defendants are Thomas Felder, former head of licensing for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; Florence McGuire, a now-retired licensing supervisor; Joan Satoloe, a licensing representative, and Millicent Smith, a longtime Easter House executive director who resigned in 1975.

The lawsuit, first filed 10 years ago, charged that after serving for 13 years, Smith resigned at the very time the license of Easter House was up for renewal and stole valuable client files.

As part of the conspiracy, Easter House claimed its license as a child welfare agency for the placement of children was not renewed for several months, Smith's new agency received a license, Easter House mail was diverted, and Smith placed a baby with an unsuspecting couple who had been clients of Easter House.

The agency started by Smith also was called Easter House, but it was later changed to the Abbott Adoption Agency. The original Easter House and its founder, Seymour Kurtz, were spotlighted in a 1976 Chicago Sun-Times series "The Baby Selling Racket." It has been the subject of state complaints on its allegedly high fees.

Another administrative action seeking the revocation of the license of the agency, at 211 E. Chicago, is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.

Illinois Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ioppolo said the verdict would be appealed and contended DCFS "did not do anything wrongful or deprive anyone of their rights."

Yesterday's jury verdict followed three prior dismissals of the lawsuit and its reinstatement by the U.S. Court of Appeals. U.S. District Judge Brian B. Duff presided over the trial, which began June 2.

Easter House is the hub of a network of Kurtz-owned or directed adoption agencies in Connecticut, New York, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, D.C. Kurtz said yesterday the Chicago service places more than "100 healthy white babies a year" - or more than any other agency.

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