Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Justin custody rally draws 70


Support urged for law change

BY SUSAN VELA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — About 70 people gathered Monday to speak up for 2-year-old Justin, whose best interest, they said, is being ignored by Kentucky's court system.

        “We are Justin's voices! We are Justin's voices! We are Justin's voices!” they chanted outside the Kenton County Building.

        It's where Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe decided last month that Justin should be returned to his biological parents, Regina Moore and and Jerry Dorning, who live in Covington.

        He has been living with Rich and Cheryl Asente of Girard, Ohio, for 13 months.

        Organizers Ann Abbott of Newport and Christine Dwyer of West Chester, Ohio, urged the crowd during the 45-minute rally to offer the couple emotional and financial support and to push Kentucky legislators toward putting a greater emphasis on the best interests of children — even if that calls for weakening the rights of biological parents.

        Most — including the children in the crowd — held posters or wore stickers portraying a smiling Justin and the Asentes.

        “I just feel strongly about it,” said Leo Knipper of Edgewood, who held a sign reading “Regina and Jerry, You Can

        Still Do What's Right for Justin.”

        “I don't know the law,” Mr. Knipper said. “But what's best for the child? If the law (isn't considering that), then it should be changed.”

        Justin was born in February 1997. Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning, an unmarried couple, began to seriously consider putting him up for adoption in December of that year because of Ms. Moore's health and the couple's financial problems.

        The couple signed consent-to-adopt forms the next month and let Justin go live with the Asentes in February 1998. The couple already had adopted the child's full biological brother, Joey, now 3.

        The consents were supposed to be irrevocable after 20 days, but court documents say that Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning were told they had until a special March 26 hearing to change their minds.

        They made it known that they wanted Justin back on the day of that hearing. The Asentes refused and, since then, a legal battle has ensued.

        Judge Summe invalidated the consents last month and ruled Justin should be returned to his biological parents. The Asentes are appealing that as well as a visitation plan that kicked in last weekend.

        Kentucky's appeals court already has denied at least two other appeals. Still, Judge Summe has decided that Justin will remain with the Asentes until the appeals process is over.

        “We had to do something,” said Mrs. Dwyer, in tears after the rally. “We couldn't just do nothing. This is a little boy, just like our little boys. I hope it makes a difference.”

        Representatives of the local chapter of Hear My Voice, a national children's advocacy group that has been lobbying for the Asentes, spoke at the rally even though their organization was not one of the sponsors.

        Carole Bower, co-chair of the local chapter, said Kentucky is running the risk of being considered a backward state because of its rulings in Justin's custody.

        Michael Asente, Rich and Cheryl Asente's nephew and a 20-year-old student at Xavier University, thanked the crowd for its support.

        Glenda Harrison and Stephanie Dietz, who are representing Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning, were part of a smaller crowd that observed the rally from across the street. They refused to comment.

       



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