exposing the dark side of adoption
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Long-running legal battle over adoption of child returns to appellate court


By Susan Redden

CARTHAGE, Mo. — A state appellate court is scheduled to hear arguments next week on behalf of a Guatemalan woman who wants to overturn a ruling that terminated her parental rights and allowed her son — now 6 years old — to be adopted by a Carthage couple.

The case, set to be heard Sept. 9 in the Southern District Missouri Court of Appeals in Springfield, challenges a decision handed down a year ago that cleared the way for the adoption of the boy who has lived with Seth and Melinda Moser, of Carthage, since he was a year old.

Joe Hensley, attorney for the couple, said last week that the biological mother’s parental rights were terminated on the grounds of “abandonment, neglect and parental unfitness.”

That decision was handed down by Circuit Judge David Jones after a two-week trial in July 2012 in Greene County Juvenile Court.

The mother of the child, Encarnacion Romero, has remained in the United States to pursue appeals that started more than three years ago. The issue has received nationwide attention from groups that advocate on behalf of women and immigrants, including those who claim that the mother lost custody of the child because she is in the country illegally. Guatemala’s ambassador to the United States attended a hearing when the case was argued before the Missouri Supreme Court.

Romero was living in Carthage in May 2007 when she was arrested on immigration charges while she was working at a Barry County poultry processing plant. While at work, she left her child with her brother. After her arrest, her brother turned the child over to a sister, and she left the baby with another Carthage couple, who agreed to adoption by the Mosers. While serving a two-year sentence for immigration-related crimes, Romero learned that the child had been adopted.

The mother’s parental rights were terminated after a Jasper County Circuit Court judge agreed with arguments on the Mosers’ behalf — namely that the child had been abandoned because the mother made no attempt to maintain contact with or provide for the child while she was incarcerated.

The adoption was granted after a hearing in October 2008, but the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed that decision in July 2010. The appellate court found that the Jasper County court lacked authority to transfer custody of the child to the Mosers, lacked authority to consider the adoption petition and lacked authority to terminate the biological mother’s parental rights.

The Mosers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. The high court ordered a new hearing, finding that requirements of state law were not followed in the original case.

Hensley said he and the Mosers “are cautiously optimistic” that the ruling from last July will be upheld.

“There was a two-week trial, and the court issued a strong judgment,” Hensley said.

Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker, among volunteer attorneys representing the biological mother, said he and others involved in the appeal “feel the court didn’t give the proper weight to the testimony” and made findings not supported by testimony.

“Some prerequisites of the adoption were never met,” he said. “We feel like these are issues that need to be decided.”

Legal status

ENCARNACION ROMERO would have been deported at the time of her arrest in 2007, but the George W. Bush administration was then requiring immigrants who were in the country illegally to first serve jail time in the United States for immigration-related crimes for which they were convicted.

2013 Sep 1