Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Lawyer's ouster sought in transracial-adoption case

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A lawyer in the dispute over Hamilton County transracial adoptions has moved to disqualify an opposing attorney because he is “for all practical purposes” married to his client.

        The motion says the client — identified as John Doe — is attorney Scott Greenwood's partner and that creates impermissible conflicts of interest for several reasons:

        • Mr. Greenwood's professional judgment is clouded by that intimate relationship.

        • Mr. Greenwood has a financial interest in the outcome of the case because both men “are looking a quick payday on the backs of African-American children.”

        • Mr. Greenwood could be called as a defense witness if John Doe tries to prove damages.

        In addition to raising the racial issue, the motion complains that Mr. Greenwood and John Doe are attempting “to use this litigation to lay the groundwork for gay couple adoptions.”

        The case began in April 1999, when Mr. Greenwood and Alphonse A. Gerhardstein sued the county and individual officials for $2 million damages on behalf of John Doe.

        John Doe says he lost his job as a social worker in the adoption unit at Hamilton County Department of Human Services after complaining that colleagues delayed or denied the adoption of black children by white adults.

        In May 1999, the lawyers amended that complaint to make it a class action, adding whites who say they had race- based problems trying to adopt black children in Hamilton County.

        Defendants all denied any wrongdoing. However, the county is negotiating with its accusers on modifications in the adoption program.

        The disqualification motion was filed Friday on behalf of defendant adoption supervisor and co-defendant Carol Wheeler-Strother by attorney Ross A. Wright, a member of the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister law firm, where Mr. Greenwood once worked. Mr. Gerhardstein said Tuesday that Mr. Greenwood would not comment on the accusations, but Mr. Gerhardstein called the motion “outrageous.”

        Mr. Greenwood's response was found in a written answer filed with U.S. District Judge Herman J. Weber.

        He and Mr. Gerhardstein accused Mr. Wright of filing “false and discriminatory allegations ... which violate the basic rule for practice in this judicial district: civility.”

        They both hope for fees in this contingency case, but noted that Mr. Wright sought only to disqualify Mr. Greenwood, who is openly gay.

        The written response also accused Mr. Wright of quoting court precedents incompletely and out of context and failing to identify an ethical violation or conflict of interest.

        Should a conflict arise, Mr. Greenwood would step aside and Mr. Gerhardstein would carry on, the lawyers said.

        Mr. Greenwood and his client live together in a jointly owned home, Mr. Wright said, and Mr. Greenwood “will inevitably benefit” from any damages obtained by his client.


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