Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Justin appeal nears 1 year



The Associated Press

GIRARD, Ohio - An adoption dispute between a boy's Kentucky birth parents and an Ohio couple who have raised him has been sitting before the Kentucky Supreme Court for almost a year.

The court has not ruled on the two-state custody battle over Justin, who turns 6 later this month, since it heard arguments Feb. 15, 2002.

The court typically decides cases in about six months, said Susan Stokley Clary, administrator for the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Richard and Cheryl Asente took custody of Justin in February 1998, shortly before his first birthday. The Asentes had adopted Justin's 7-year-old brother, Joey, in 1995. Joey's adoption is not an issue.

Both boys were born to Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning, an unmarried couple from Northern Kentucky.

Two months after Justin began living with the Asentes, his birth parents asked for his return.

The Asentes refused, setting off a series of court fights in Ohio and Kentucky over the blue-eyed, redheaded boy.

Justin has been living with the Asentes in their home near Youngstown and sees his birth parents about every three weeks.

Kent Markus, director of the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy at Capital University in Columbus, called the Kentucky Supreme Court's delay "embarrassing."

He said the harm caused to families by legal delay has driven advocates to push courts to speed up the process.

The Asentes call the court every month on the day it announces decisions, praying to hear that Justin will remain with them. This month, the court issues decisions on Feb. 20.

"We're trying to maintain a positive attitude," Mrs. Asente said. "It's hard to wait, but it is better to wait than have a bad ruling."

Justin's birth parents do not wish to comment on the case, attorney Glenda Harrison, of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, said Monday.

The issue before the Kentucky Supreme Court is the validity of the "voluntary and informed" consent agreement that Moore and Dorning signed in January 1998, when Justin was 11 months old. By signing, the couple agreed to relinquish their parental rights and start a formal adoption process.

Moore and Dorning have argued that their former attorney misinformed them about a deadline for changing their minds about the adoption.




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