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Attorney defends actions of adoptive mother


Attorney defends actions of adoptive mother

HOUSTON (AP) — The attorney for the adoptive mother of seven children found malnourished in a Nigerian orphanage avoided having "very dirty linen paraded around the world" Thursday by agreeing to allow them to remain in the state's custody, the children's attorney said.

The attorney for Child Protective Services had planned to show videotaped interviews with the children, some of whom were found suffering from typhoid and malaria, at Thursday's custody hearing. Since their return to the United States, the children have alleged years of severe emotional and physical abuse.

The adoptive mother's attorney avoided the hearing by agreeing to allow the children, who range in age from 8 to 16, to stay in temporary foster care.

"She avoided having all of this very dirty linen paraded around the world," Terry Lea Elizondo, an attorney appointed to represent the children, said of adoptive mother Mercury Liggins.

"As it stands, there is no necessity to drag any more mud into this thing than has already been put forth," said Michael Delaney, Liggins' attorney. "Rather than try to battle and try to immediately get the kids back, it might even be better for the kids ... to right now remain in CPS custody."

Earlier Thursday, Delaney said he planned to fight to return the children to Liggins' care. After talking with attorneys for CPS and the children's attorney, Delaney said he realized there was common ground.

"The common ground is that they are not necessarily trying to take the children away from my client," he said, explaining Liggins could eventually regain custody of her children.

Liggins did not attend Thursday's court session. Delaney originally told the judge she was hospitalized. When that was challenged by CPS and the children's attorneys, Delaney tried to contact Liggins, finding her at home. He told the court Liggins had been released from the hospital a day earlier and remained on three medications.

"She is in no state of mind to testify today and furthermore, I am not ready," Delaney told the judge, who denied his request for a delay.

As part of the temporary custody agreement, CPS said if the children's therapists agree and the state agency's guidelines are followed, Liggins could receive two one-hour visits each month.

However, Elizondo said the seven do not want to go back to Liggins and warned Delaney against a group visit.

"In a group, these kids are really sure they do not like their mom," Elizondo said. "So if there were a visit, and all seven of those kids marched into the room, I think they would probably smack her in the face. ... They definitely wouldn't be very nice to her."

"Whereas, if you took one or two at a time, they may be willing to try to re-establish a relationship with her."

The oldest of the children is quite angry about the Nigeria experience, Delaney admitted, adding the teenager has a large amount of influence on her younger siblings.

"But that remains to be seen how much of that is actually what they feel, and how much of that is just trying to go along with their older sister," he said.

CPS attorney Michael Schneider Jr. said there will be home studies, counseling, criminal background checks, visits and goals set for the family before the state agency decides whether to recommend Liggins retain or lose custody of the children.

Liggins, 47, took the children to Nigeria in October. She remained with the children for a month, then sent a relative between $1,500 and $2,000 monthly to support the children and pay for their boarding school, Delaney said.

Liggins received $3,584 monthly _ $512 per child _ from the state for the children's care.

Delaney said Liggins took a job in Iraq and Nigeria was a way for the children to be closer to her while she financially supported her family.

Instead of paying for the children's school, Delaney alleges the relative pocketed the money.

The children were kicked out of the school and ended up in a squalid orphanage, where they were found Aug. 4 by a missionary from San Antonio. The church's pastor told two U.S. congressmen and the children were returned home soon afterwards.

Four of the children are biological siblings adopted by Liggins in 1996. The three others share another birth mother and were adopted in Dallas in 2001. The family has been investigated four times for abuse or neglect in reports dating to 1997.

The biological parents of the first four children attended Thursday's hearing with hopes of regaining custody.

"It's a little more complicated than you just saying I want to see my kids," Elizondo told the parents who had their rights terminated a decade ago.

Before adopting the seven, Liggins had adopted two other children with a man she was married to from 1979 to 1990. She also has two children of her own, who along with the first two adopted children, lived with Liggins' ex-husband after their divorce, according to CPS.

2004 Aug 27