More judges stalling adoptions of Koreans
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
Attorney general uncovers possible legal flaw
Author: MOSS, MICHAEL; Michael Moss Staff Writer STAFF
Concerned that a recent opinion by the state attorney general has uncovered a flaw in Georgia's adoption law, Superior Court judges throughout the metro area are joining Gwinnett County in withholding approval of cases involving Korean babies.
Prospective adoptive parents in Gwinnett had been turning to Fulton County, where judges were said to be more familiar with adoption law and more likely to grant a speedy "routine" approval.
But late last week, two Fulton County judges balked at granting Korean baby adoptions by Gwinnett couples. And with another half-dozen cases pending, the issue was on the agenda for discussion at the Fulton judges' administrative meeting today.
"I think the attorney general's opinion is correct," said Fulton Judge Osgood Williams, who last Friday delayed a Korean adoption hearing for two weeks so he could research the law.
And Fulton Judge Luther Alverson last Thursday "informally" rejected an adoption request by a Gwinnett couple until more information about the child could be obtained from the Korean government. Attorney General Mike Bowers, in response to an inquiry from a Gwinnett County judge, issued an informal opinion Aug. 27 that since Korea does not require the natural parents to sign a document giving up their child, such adoptions do not satisfy Georgia law. The state law is designed to prevent black-marketeering in babies, and Bowers wrote that failure to require documentation protecting the rights of natural parents "would condone the practice of the sale or kidnapping of foreign children."
``It's a sad kind of thing. It's so emotional," Williams said. "The problem is that these adoptions are not adversarial proceedings. You only get one side of a very emotional issue. Here are the parents and their beautiful baby, which they already have."
Williams and judges in other courts say they empathize with adoptive parents, but they're alarmed that the position outlined by Bowers could even jeopardize the hundreds of Korean baby adoptions already approved in Georgia.
"I'm an adoptive parent," said Cobb County Superior Court Judge Grant Brantley, one of those taking a go-slow approach. "I know that if all of a sudden I learned that the adoption was not legal, I'd be devastated. And I assure you, so would my son."
Meanwhile, state officials are studying the issue and an adoptive parents' group is lobbying state legislators to amend Georgia law - a move that Williams supports.
"It's got to be changed," said Dr. Candy Murdock of Rome, a leader of the parents' group, North Georgia OURS, and the mother of a Japanese child. "There's a lot of people adopting foreign children, especially in Gwinnett, but all over Georgia."
Since 1980, an average of 120 Korean babies each year were placed for adoption in homes in Alabama, Florida and Georgia by Childrens' Services International Inc., according to Lya Sorano, director of the not-for-profit firm based in Atlanta. She estimated that from 5,000 to 6,000 Korean baby adoptions are approved nationwide each year.
Gwinnett County Judge Jim Henderson earlier this year rejected the adoption request of a Gwinnett couple with twin Korean boys. The couple gained approval for the adoption in a Fulton County court, and the case was publicized in recent newspaper reports.
Bowers last Friday said he had not received any more inquiries concerning state law as it relates to Korean baby adoptions. But his opinion, along with a newspaper article on the issue, is being circulated in metro county courts.
Asked how he'd respond to a Korean adoption request, Cobb's Brantley said: "When I get one of those, I'll call Jim Henderson over in Gwinnett and bat it around with him."
"I'll be looking at these very carefully," said Fulton Judge John Langford.
Judge Clarence Cooper, the Fulton judge who approved the adoption of the twins from Gwinnett last June, said that Bowers' ruling would make him hesitate in the future.
Scott Sprinkle of the state Department of Human Resources said his staff has arranged to meet with both the adoption agencies and with Gwinnett County judges to discuss the issue.
In the meantime, several judges said they were personally torn over the issue.
Said Langford: "If we deny the adoptions, I think we have to think about what other problems we are creating. The babies are already here. What are we going to do? Launch them back to Korea in a rocket ship?"
"We're going to work on this," said Williams, who compared the legal issue to that of the situation in Georgia years ago where divorces were held illegal because of a flaw in state law.
Williams said he'd support the amnesty-type legislative fix that solved that quandary.
The last nine paragraphs did not appear in the final edition.