The imminent transfer of twin 19-month-old girls from their adoptive parents to their birth family was blocked late Thursday afternoon by a state appellate court, giving a glimmer of hope to an Ohio couple that they might keep the girls despite the toddlers' Native American heritage.
A lawyer for Jim and Colette Rost of Columbus, Ohio, reveled in the "small victory," just a day after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered the couple to give up the twins they have raised since infancy. The Rosts could not be reached for comment.
Birth parents Richard (Rick) and Cindy Adams of Long Beach had apparently won a protracted custody dispute over Bridget and Lucy on Wednesday by invoking a federal law that gives Native Americans unusual powers to maintain custody of their children.
The young couple also could not be reached. But Arnold Klein, an attorney appointed to represent the twins, said: "I'm shocked and appalled that the court would subject the twins to this extended judicial torture."
It was impossible to say Thursday how the 2nd District Court of Appeal emergency stay will effect the final placement of Bridget and Lucy.
"It could be extremely significant, or a minor victory that only lasts a week or so," said Jane Gorman, the Rosts attorney.
The Ohio couple's principal claim in the appeal is that the birth parents effectively abandoned their children after the adoption and that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Henning erred Wednesday by not hearing evidence on that issue.
The Rosts argued that in such a hearing they would have been able to prove the girls would suffer "severe emotional and physical detriment" if removed from the only home they have ever known. They also hoped to show that the Adams' past problems with domestic violence made them unfit parents.
The petition by the Rosts, both 40, also told the appellate court that they should have been given a chance to prove that the Adams' claims of returning Bridget and Lucy to their native heritage was not legitimate. They argued that the Long Beach couple does not live on a reservation or have a strong identity with their tribes, the Pomos of Northern California and the Yaquis of the Southwest.
"I don't think there is any basis for those claims. None at all," countered Leslie Glick, the attorney representing Rick Adams, 23. She said Adams has many times visited his native rancheria, or reservation, near the town of Geyserville and always identified himself as a Native American, until another lawyer persuaded him not to, in order to speed the adoption. Domestic violence claims about the Adams have been overstated, she said.
Lawyers in the case have until Thursday to respond to the appeal. At that time, the court could either lift the stay, or extend it and also decide whether to have a full hearing on the issues.
What had been a cooperative adoption, arranged before the birth of the twin girls in 1993, exploded in controversy three months later when Rick Adams claimed his Indian heritage and his daughters. The Indian Child Welfare Act requires that Native American children placed for adoption first be offered to their extended families and their tribes, in order to protect groups that were shrinking because of repeated adoptions by outsiders.
The Adams' failure to state their tribal ties--they say at the direction of lawyer D. Durand Cook--allowed the adoption to proceed expeditiously. But the native bloodlines also allowed them to reopen the matter after the girls had gone to Ohio to live with their new family.
With the case again in doubt, the twins will remain in legal limbo. They are staying with Jim and Colette Rost and their 8-year-old sister, the Rost's biological daughter, at a friend's home in Santa Monica.