Thursday, April 26, 2001

Justin case now goes to Ky. Supreme Court


Adoption battle has been waged for years

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Kentucky Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will decide the fate of one 4-year-old boy and could set a precedent for interpreting adoption law in the commonwealth.

        The court has agreed to review the Kentucky Court of Appeals' most recent ruling: that Justin, who has been at the center of an interstate custody battle most of his life, should stay with the Girard, Ohio, couple that has been trying to adopt him.

Justin
Justin
        “We're very pleased the court decided to hear the case,” said Stephanie Dietz, the lawyer representing Justin's biological parents, Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning of Northern Kentucky.

        Even before Justin was born in February 1997, his biological mother, now of Burlington, had asked Cheryl and Richard Asente whether they wished to adopt him. The Asentes already had adopted Justin's biological brother, Joey.

        But after Justin's birth, she and Mr. Dorning changed their minds and Justin remained with them. When Justin was 11 months old, the couple placed him with the Asentes and signed consent-to-adopt forms in February 1998. Though the forms state they become irrevocable after 20 days, Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning said they signed them only after an attorney assured them they would have until a March 1998 hearing to change their minds.

        They changed their minds, but the hearing never was held.

        Thus began the legal battles, with each side suing and countersuing the other in Kentucky and Ohio for custody.

        “I would hope that this would indicate to the legislature that there is a need for change,” Ms. Dietz said, adding that she expects the court's spotlight to be on the consent of her clients and whether it was given voluntarily.

        “Whatever decision they make in the Kentucky Supreme Court is it,” she said. “Whatever decision they make is final.”

        The move will guarantee that the case will be in court at least another year. And legal experts say the case may cast a long legal shadow over future adoption cases.

        Robert Stenger has been a family and constitution law professor at the University of Louisville for 27 years. There are two reasons the court may have decided to hear the case, he said:

        The first would be to rule on an extenuating circumstance to the Justin case, or to take a hard line on upholding a finalized adoption.

        A decadelong trend in the commonwealth, as well as across the nation, he said, is for courts to uphold finalized adoptions.

        “Blood is strong; but once you've signed the paper and you know what you are doing, then it becomes a little harder,” Dr. Stenger said. “You are no longer a parent.”

        Susan Garner Eisenman, the Asentes' Ohio attorney, said the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision to weigh in on the case could be because of the high level of public interest.

        “Unfortunately it means further delay,” she said. “It just means the ordeal of the Asente family will be prolonged. (But) we believe the Court of Appeals' decision was very well-written and definitive.

        Both sides say they want a speedy decision in the interest of Justin.

        “We are hoping for an expedited resolution,” Ms. Eisenman said.

Timeline of Justin case
       



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