Tuesday, August 22, 2000

New lawyer arguing for Justin

Custody decision debated

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Monday to allow another lawyer to argue the case of an Ohio couple involved in an adop tion dispute with a couple in Kentucky.

        The court had barred the attorney of Richard and Cheryl Asente of Girard, in northeast Ohio, from appearing before justices today because the attorney had missed a filing deadline. The justices had planned to review his written arguments.

        The case is the first to be argued under a new court rule speeding up custody cases to reduce the amount of time a child spends in foster care.

        The court said Monday that Rosemary Pomeroy, an attorney with Grassroots Citizens for Children, a nonprofit children's advocacy group, is allowed to speak for the Ohioans.

        The Asentes have asked the court to rule that Ohio has jurisdiction over their attempt to adopt 3-year-old Justin, whose biological parents in Kentucky agreed to his adoption, then changed their minds.

        The Asentes, who previously adopted the boy's brother, Joseph, now 4, argue that Justin deserves a hearing to determine what's in his best interest.

        For that to happen, the Supreme Court must rule that Ohio has jurisdiction. A probate court judge in Ohio has already ruled for a hearing, but Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe ruled against it.

Best-interest hearing
               The Asentes have asked a Kentucky appeals court to overturn the Kentucky judge's ruling, which also ordered them to return the child to his biological parents, Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning, of Covington.

        “Just because he's being adopted, he shouldn't be treated any differently than any other child,” said Samuel Totaro, a Philadelphia attorney with the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, who filed court documents on behalf of the Asentes. “If two biological parents were fighting over him for custody, there would be a best-in terest hearing.”

        Ms. Pomeroy also filed documents with the court supporting the Asentes' position.

Missed deadline
               The Asentes' Columbus lawyer, Charles Milless, had missed a filing deadline on May 30 by one minute.

        He blamed the delay on his mother's death earlier in the month, as well as problems with a broken copy machine and the court's security equipment the day the documents were due.

        Susan Garner Eisenman, who also represents the Asentes, said Monday she was pleased the court will allow Ms. Pomeroy to present the case.

        Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning could not be reached to comment on the decision. Judge Summe has banned all parties in Kentucky from discussing most aspects of the case.

        Ms. Moore's attorney, Richard Cullison, has said that Ohio courts should follow the Kentucky rulings and not force the case to begin again.

        The Asentes, both 37, say they are trying to make the best of a stressful situation. Richard Asente said Monday that the couple has spent more than $330,000 on legal fees, in addition to the expense of driving Justin to court-ordered visits with his biological parents in Kentucky.

        He and his wife, a full-time homemaker, believe the boys would be better off together with them, the only people they recognize as parents, Mr. Asente said.

        The case “permeates every second of every minute of every day,” said Mr. Asente, an office supply store manager.

        “We try to have days when we say we're not going to talk about it, but it's hard, especially on holidays. It makes you wonder if everyone will be together next year, on the next birthday, on Mother's Day.”


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