Thursday, March 18, 1999

Parents' fight for Justin is not over yet

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Justin's birth parents win.” That was the headline (on Wednesday's story), and it was, of course, absolutely accurate. The prize, at least temporarily, is a 2-year-old child.

        On Tuesday, Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe ruled that Justin should be returned to his biological parents, who gave him away but changed their minds. It's not really that simple. It never is.

        The child has lived with Rich and Cheryl Asente in Girard, Ohio, since he was 11 months old. This family also includes, not incidentally, Justin's full, biological brother, Joey. Justin had lived with the Asentes for little more than a month when there was trouble.

        Regina Moore, who gave birth to Justin, said she wanted him back.

Cut their losses?
        So, should the Asentes have cut their losses? Should they have packed up his toys and the pajamas with feet on them and sent Justin off to Covington, where he was born? That probably would have been smart. Certainly cheaper. The Asentes say they've spent more than $108,000 on legal and adoption expenses.

        They surely knew that this could be a tough road. After all, the Asentes had the cautionary tales of Babies Richard and Jessica.

        When the Supreme Court finally wrestled Baby Richard away from his adoptive parents in 1995, he was 4 years old. First hint of a problem was when he was 82 days old. Baby Jessica was 2 years old when she was taken from Jan and Roberta DeBoer, her parents since shortly after her birth.

        But these children, Justin included, are not in escrow while the adults duke it out. Mother against mother. Father against father. They are forming attachments of their own.

        Regina Moore says she misses Justin. She's sad.

        She's not the point.

        Nor are the Asentes and their anguish over the possibility of losing the boy they now regard as their son.

Tough choices
        There is only one person who matters right now. He is 2 years old and already has been uprooted once. Judge Summe has said she'll consider two visitation plans submitted by court-appointed psychologist Ed Connor.

        One of them is an elaborate series of two-hour visits. The other plan proposes more frequent, lengthier meetings, with the Asentes continuing to visit Justin up to six months after he leaves them. Travel time, round-trip by car, is about 12 hours from the Asentes' home in northeast Ohio to Covington.

        The plans are an effort to make sure that this child is not damaged by being taken from his brother and the parents he has known for the past year to return to parents he does not remember.

        No one is suggesting that Justin would suffer psychological damage if he stays right where he is.

        What does that tell us?

        It says quite clearly what we have known all along. The court's primary concern is not for this child. The rights of the grown-ups are being debated and adjudicated. Papers filed. Court dates. The law.

        And biology. If the courts are so smitten with the notion of blood ties, what about Joey, Justin's brother?

        “If you could see the boys playing together and giggling like crazy or running through the sprinkler, you would understand how wrong it would be to separate them,” says a letter from the Asentes posted on the Internet.

        But it's not over yet. There is to be an appeal March 30 before a three-judge panel in Kentucky. In Ohio's Trumbull County near the Asentes' home, Judge R.R. Clunk will hear evidence on the question of jurisdiction on April 2.

        Meanwhile, I am going to picture those two little boys — giggling like crazy — and hope for a better headline one day:

        “Justin wins.”

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at

Justin's transfer may be delayed by appeals