Mother: Adoptions were coerced

Relates to:
Date: 1997-10-23

CAROL MARBIN MILLER
St. Petersburg Times

It was pouring rain on a Saturday when Tampa lawyer Gregory Boyer pulled up in his large, white van to arrange the adoption. A court reporter was setting up his equipment in the van, and two witnesses were arriving in a separate car.

Darcy Akers Ball, 23, said Boyer told her that her estranged husband already had signed the papers. Now it was her turn.

Ball, who has an eighth-grade education, spent 15 minutes signing papers, then watched Boyer drive away.

Days later, after realizing what she had done, Ball decided she wanted to get back her children - Lauren, 5, Brandon, 3, and Vanessa, 1.

Frustrated in her attempts to reach Boyer, she filed suit Oct. 8 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, alleging Boyer deceived and coerced her into placing her children for adoption. The children have been returned to her on a temporary basis, and Judge Bonnie Newton must now decide if the adoption agreement is invalid.

Newton heard about six hours of testimony Wednesday. One of Boyer's witnesses, however, went into labor while waiting to testify. The hearing will be continued later, possibly next week.

Ball was separated from her husband and living at a friend's house when a St. Petersburg pastor - whose congregation had helped care for the children - suggested the couple place their children for adoption. "At that time, it wasn't an option for me," she testified.

But Ball's husband, Joshua Ball, continued to discuss adoption with the pastor, who contacted Boyer at his request. On Saturday, Sept. 27, Boyer arrived at Joshua Ball's parents' house to obtain consent for the adoption. Joshua Ball called his wife at her friend's house and told her Boyer was on his way over.

Joshua Ball, 22, remembers his wife's ambivalence on the phone. She kept saying "I don't know. I don't want to lose the kids. I don't know. I don't know," he testified.

Darcy Ball had never met Boyer before he drove up in his white van. She insists the lawyer told her Joshua had signed a consent form - which was not true, according to testimony.

"Mr. Boyer told me Josh had signed the papers," she said. "I thought this is it."

"Did you think you had a choice, at that point?" asked her attorney, Sarah M. Chaves.

"No," she replied. "Not at that point."

Boyer's handling of adoption cases has been questioned before. He is a lawyer in the interstate custody battle over "Baby Sam," a 1-year-old Pinellas child who has been shipped to an adoptive family in Alabama because his birth mother lied by telling an adoption agency she didn't know the identity of the boy's father.

Although Boyer knew of documents that showed the boy's biological father had surfaced, he still filed court papers to terminate the parental right's of an "unknown father." Boyer said the biological father's paternity suit did not automatically make him the boy's father.

Boyer testified Wednesday there was nothing unusual about the Ball adoption. The papers were signed in his van because nobody asked him inside their houses. Darcy Ball did not appear to be under any duress and was fully informed of all her rights, including the right to consult her own attorney.

Boyer said he never told Darcy Ball her husband had signed the papers.

But for more than an hour Wednesday, Boyer was grilled, first by Chaves, and then by Newton, whose demeanor seemed more like a prosecutor's than a judge's.

Newton asked Boyer why he filled out a sworn statement that explained Darcy Ball's reasons for seeking an adoption without discussing the statement with her. (She eventually signed the statement.)

Joshua Ball told him why he thought his wife wanted the adoption, Boyer said.

"So, you presumed he was being honest, and you presumed he could speak for her feelings and her reasons?," the judge asked.

Newton also questioned Boyer's definition of the word "fraud." In a transcript of Boyer's meeting with Darcy Ball Sept. 27, he told her the adoption could be ruled invalid only if she were the victim of fraud or duress. "Fraud meaning that I told you it's signing your lunch ticket," he is quoted in the transcript as saying.

"In other words, you're not telling her a doggone thing about what fraud means," the judge said.

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