Sunday, September 17, 2000

Justin wins a round in court fight

        It's about time. A Kentucky court ruled Friday that Baby Justin — who at 3 1/2 would probably insist that he is a big boy now — should remain with his parents. His parents are, of course, the Ohio couple who have cared for him since he was 11 months old.

        Cheryl and Richard Asente also are the parents of Justin's older brother, Joey, who went to live with them when he was 11 days old. Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning of Florence contributed the DNA. Ms. Moore asked the Asentes to adopt the younger boy while she was still pregnant with him.

        Then she changed her mind. And changed it back again. Justin went to live with the Asentes.

        Ms. Moore changed her mind still another time.

        But before that, she and Mr. Dorning, who was married to another woman, signed consent-to-adopt forms. They later said they were confused. Between them they have brought six children into the world, none of whom live with them. So they certainly have more expertise in these matters than the average person.

        The Asentes dug in their heels and fought for their son.

Shamefully slow
               This case has been bouncing back and forth between Ohio and Kentucky for more than two years. We can fast-track building projects, but justice for our children is shamefully slow.

        When the Supreme Court finally wrestled Baby Richard away from his 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.

        Meanwhile these children are not held in escrow. They are learning to walk, learning to use the potty, learning to call the people they live with Mommy and Daddy.

        Friday's ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge's order that Justin be returned to the couple in Florence. Meanwhile, I wonder what the Asentes tell Justin.

        “Do I have to go live with them, Mommy?”

        Does she tell the truth?

        “I don't know.

        Because it might not be over yet. The decision may be appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Daddy Warbucks
               The three-judge appellate court was divided in its opinion. Dissenting Judge Wil Schroder said, “If we start erroneously considering "best interest of the child' in terminating parental rights, a parent could potentially lose their child. Daddy Warbucks would be able to have any child he wanted without the parents' consent and without first showing the parents are unfit.”

        Oh c'mon, Judge.

        Daddy Warbucks rescued Annie from an orphanage. He didn't wrestle her out of the arms of loving parents of modest means.

        And it seems a little disrespectful of Judge Schroder to assume his colleagues would base custody decisions on economics. It's not about money. And, as every parent knows, it is eventually not about biology.

        It is about baby barf on the shoulder of your favorite shirt. It is about showing them how to hold a pencil — “a pinch and a shelf.” It is taking off bicycle training wheels. It is soccer practice. It's about vitamins and science projects.

        It's about time.

        E-mail Laura at


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