Thursday, August 24, 2000
Kentucky courts to decide on Justin
Ohio high court won't intervene
By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS A bitter, emotional fight over the custody of a 3-year-old boy will be settled in Kentucky not Ohio, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a fast-tracked, 7-0 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court decided to stay out of a rare interstate struggle between two sets of parents battling over a red-haired, hazel-eyed toddler named Justin. That gives a Kentucky appellate court sole authority to decide whether Justin should stay with his brother and adoptive parents in Girard, Ohio, or go back to his birth parents in Florence.
The quick decision in the case, which had been argued before the justices Tuesday, was a victory for Justin's Kentucky parents, Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning. The unmarried couple urged Ohio to stay out of the dispute as they pressed their case for the boy through the Kentucky court system.
Richard and Cheryl Asente, Justin's adoptive parents, abruptly left a Youngstown radio talk show Wednesday morning without comment. An attorney for the couple said they were in seclusion with Justin in their Girard home, 250 northeast of Cincinnati.
Hear My Voice, a Michigan-based child advocacy group that supports the Asentes, blasted the high court for the decision.
It is almost unheard of that a supreme court would rule on a case within 12 hours, said Debbie Grabar kiewicz, a Hear My Voice spokeswoman.
The supreme court ruled against the Asentes, Ms. Grabarkiewicz said, because their attorneys missed a deadline to file written arguments in the case. That missed deadline kept the Asentes' attorneys from speaking during Tuesday's oral arguments.
We're obviously disturbed that a set of respected justices would punish a child for a late filing made by an adult, Ms. Grabarkiewicz said.
Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer and Justice Evelyn Lundberg-Stratton defended the decision. They said all the justices thoroughly reviewed the case, and the decision had nothing to do with missed deadlines.
That's a gross misinterpretation and misstatement about how this case was decided, Justice Moyer said.
Justice Pfeifer said it was clear to all the justices that Ohio courts did not have any legal rights to Justin's case.
Appropriate jurisdiction is something we have to abide by, Justice Pfeifer said. Otherwise you'll have a shooting war going on between the states.
Justice Lundberg-Stratton said the court could not weigh the child's welfare as a factor in a question of jurisdiction.
Justice Moyer said one reason the decision was released so quickly was the justices felt there was nothing they could say that the 11th District of Ohio Appellate Court hadn't already said. In November, the appellate court decided the case was Kentucky's.
The high court simply took the 28-page appellate court decision and adopted it as its own.
It came down pretty clear, Justice Moyer said.
As the spotlight in this 2-year-old court battle shifts to Kentucky, Justin remains with the Asentes in their Girard home. Under a Kentucky court order, he spends three weekends a month with his birth parents.
The Asentes had hoped to adopt Justin from the Kentucky couple as they had adopted his 4-year-old biological brother Joseph. But as the adoption process moved forward, Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning changed their minds and sued to get Justin back.
A Kentucky trial court judge ruled Justin's birth parents did not give an informed consent to let the Asentes adopt the child. He ordered Justin be returned.
That order was stayed while a Kentucky appellate court reviews the case. A decision from that court is expected sometime within the next three months.
The Asentes had hoped Ohio courts would get involved so that a best interest hearing could be held. In such a hearing, a court decides which home environment would be best for a child.
Susan Garner Eisenman, the Asentes' attorney, said she will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. Such requests are often denied as a matter of routine.
Ms. Eisenman said there is still a chance a Kentucky court will hold a best-interest hearing in Justin's case. That would happen if the appellate court says it is necessary.
Richard Cullison, Ms. Moore's attorney, said his clients were elated with the Supreme Court's decision. Though Ms. Moore and Mr. Dorning declined to comment, Mr. Cullison said Justin's mother has always regretted her initial decision to give her baby up for adoption.
The first night Justin was gone Regina felt remorse, Mr. Cullison said. It was an immediate sense of loss.
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