Friday, April 09, 1999

Ohio judge suspends visits with Justin

Ruling surprises Kentucky parents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WARREN, Ohio — A few days before a 2-year-old boy was to spend time with his biological parents, an Ohio judge on Thursday suspended the visitation plan that a Northern Kentucky judge set last month in the two-state adoption struggle over Justin Moore.

        The judge also ruled that the Ohio court has taken charge of the controversial case because Kentucky no longer has jurisdiction. Ohio is considered to be Justin's home.

        Visiting Judge R.R. Denny Clunk, sitting in Trumbull County Probate Court, ruled that Ohio could not give “full faith and credit” to rulings made in February by Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe. He ordered that visitations be suspended until an independent psychologist evaluates Justin and the two sets of parents battling for custody of the child.

        Judge Clunk stressed that the adoption petition filed by Rich and Cheryl Asente in Trumbull County remains alive and that Justin's best interest will be considered by a hearing in Ohio.

        Attorneys for Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning of Covington, Justin's biological parents, were left reeling after reading the 23-page document.

        At a hearing last week, Judge Clunk denied their request to dismiss the adoption petition. But they had no idea of his intent to suspend the visita tion plan. Judge Summe implemented the plan after her February decision to return custody to Justin's biological parents.

        “The most shocking part of it is that he suspended visitation,” said attorney Stephanie Dietz, who questioned whether Judge Clunk could do such a thing. “That we weren't suspecting. That's the one that just slaps you in the face. I guess he thinks he can do it.”

        She said she and Glenda Harrison and Richard Cullison of the Northern Kentucky Legal Aid Society will meet soon to discuss whether to file an appeal with the Ohio Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court, or both.

        “All I can say is, we're going to appeal,” Mr. Cullison said.

        The Asentes could not be reached for comment, but their attorney, Susan Eisenman, said she was impressed with Judge Clunk's opinion.

        “It shows a lot of analysis and strength,” she said. But she noted a problem for the Asentes. If they allow visits between Justin and his biological parents, they will be violating Judge Clunk's opinion. If they don't allow them, they will be disobeying Judge Summe's orders.

        “At the moment, we have incompatible orders,” she said. “At some time, it will have to be resolved.”

        A representative from Hear My Voice, a children's advocacy group that has been been following the case, said two, two-hour visits planned for this week probably wouldn't happen.

        The Asentes already have adopted Justin's brother, Joey, now 3. Justin had been living with his biological parents for 11 months when they decided to let him live with the Asentes in February 1998.

        Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning al ready had signed consent-to-adopt forms, which said the consents would be irrevocable after 20 days. But Judge Summe has ruled they signed them with the distinct understanding that they would have until a special March 26, 1998, hearing to change their minds.

        The hearing never took place because, on that day, they made it known that they wanted Justin back. The Asentes refused.

        Judge Summe invalidated the forms in February and ordered that Justin be returned to his biological parents. She put the visitation plan in place so Justin could become familiar with Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning before a final move.

        The Asentes appealed her decision, and she agreed Justin would remain with them until the appeals process was done.

        Judge Clunk noted the consent forms said they were irrevocable after 20 days. He said that Ms. Moore gave up jurisdiction over the child when she let him move in with the Asentes and that she gave up legal custody of him at the same time.

        “No coercion, no fraud, no duress or undue influence, but rather a voluntary proceeding on the part of all parties occurred,” he said. “Following placement, Kentucky no longer had jurisdiction over the placement for adoption of Justin.”

        Ohio assumed jurisdictional rights to Justin's case after he had lived with the Asentes for six months, he said.

        “The Asentes did not remove Justin from Kentucky merely to seek a more favorable legal forum,” he said. “Instead, Ohio is the location of (the Asentes') home and the place where Moore and Dorning voluntarily chose to place Justin.”


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