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Mom awarded $275,000


Suit alleges coercion to let baby be adopted


The San Diego Union-Tribune

A Superior Court jury awarded $275,000 in damages yesterday to a woman who said she was coerced into giving up her baby for adoption by a private agency and one of its workers.

After less than two days of deliberations, the jury returned the award against San Diego Pregnancy Services and its former director of adoptions, Bonnie Jo Williams.

The panel found fraud and misrepresentation in the way the agency and Williams dealt with the plaintiff, Krista Stoner, who was 19, pregnant, unmarried and homeless in 1989 when she turned to the Oceanside office of San Diego Pregnancy Services for help.

The jury also concluded that Williams -- but not the agency -- committed "intentional fraud and/or intentional concealment" in Stoner's case. This special finding could result in punitive damages being leveled against Williams when the jury returns today for another round of deliberations.

The lawyers for Stoner, Williams and San Diego Pregnancy Services declined comment on the initial verdict until the trial is concluded.

Stoner, who showed no expression as the verdict was read yesterday, will never be able to retrieve her child, Elizabeth, who is now 4 years old and living with a family in Tennessee.

For her, the lawsuit is a means of getting some compensation for what she says was her suffering.

Stoner contended that she was pressured into giving up her baby for adoption and was made to pick the adoptive parents while she was in labor. She testified during the trial that she was forced to sign the adoption papers while in a hospital, under the influence of Demerol.

But the lawyers for the other side have contended that Stoner was to blame, that when Stoner went to San Diego Pregnancy Services she was addicted to crystal methamphetamine and was not sure who the baby's father was.

Williams testified that Stoner decided to give up the baby a month before it was born in January 1989 and seemed happy with the decision. In a videotape shown during the trial, Stoner tells the adoptive parents, Carson and Jennifer Looney, that "I think the Lord showed me" which couple to choose.

It wasn't until three months later that she changed her mind, Williams said.

The tension in Judge Sheridan Reed's courtroom was palpable throughout the two-week trial, with Stoner sometimes grimacing at the other side's testimony and Williams often appearing to give deliberately vague answers to questions from Stoner's attorney, Milton J. Silverman.

The animosity between the two sides peaked Tuesday, the last day of the trial.

In his closing argument, Michael Williams, Bonnie Jo Williams' lawyer, told what he said was an old Cheyenne Indian tale, in which he likened Stoner to a poisonous snake that bites even those who try to help it.

Silverman angrily responded, "Until this moment, I did not realize the depth of what these people were, to call her a snake (as if) it wasn't enough to terrify her, and call her a liar."

Silverman then launched into his own story about visiting the Nazi concentration camps in Germany, and he compared the pregnancy center's employees to the Nazi guards, who, he said, were similarly self-righteous in their contentions that they were doing the right thing.

San Diego Pregnancy Services was founded in 1984 by a group of women who met at a North County evangelical church and shared anti-abortion views. The goal of the agency is to help women continue with their pregnancies rather than have abortions, according to testimony in the trial.

The center has been accused of deceptive advertising in a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood, which contends that the agency has concealed its anti-abortion stance from women who go there seeking help with unplanned pregnancies.

1993 May 7