The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 26, 2013

Missouri Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to adoption decision

A Guatemalan woman seeking to overturn the adoption of her biological child by a Carthage couple has exhausted those efforts — unsuccessfully — in the state court system.

The Missouri Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal filed on behalf of Encarnacion Romero that challenged a Missouri Court of Appeals decision terminating her parental rights.

The decision came on Christmas Eve and was characterized as “a Christmas gift” by Joe Hensley, attorney for Seth and Melinda Moser, of Carthage.

The ruling means that there are no more options for the biological mother in state courts, Hensley said, and that any further appeal of the adoption would have to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Mosers have raised the child — now 7 years old — since he was a year old. Legal battles have gone on since 2008.

Supporters of the biological mother have argued that Romero lost custody of the child because she is an immigrant in the country illegally.

The appeals court upheld arguments on behalf of the Mosers, finding that the natural mother had forfeited her rights because she abandoned and neglected the child.

Bill Fleischaker, of Joplin, who is among several attorneys volunteering in the case on behalf of the natural mother, said he had been notified of the decision. He said there has been no decision with his co-counsel on potential options or how to respond to the ruling.

Attorneys for Romero had requested that the high court hear their challenge of an appeals court decision handed down in October that terminated Romero’s parental rights and upheld the child’s adoption by the Mosers. The appellate court ruled in a unanimous, 81-page decision.

Romero, who had been arrested on immigration violations, challenged a July 2012 decision that she had forfeited her rights because she had abandoned and neglected the child.

That decision marked the second time the adoption had been before the Missouri Court of Appeals. The same panel of judges earlier had ruled against the Mosers and found that the adoption approved in Jasper County Circuit Court should be reversed. The Mosers appealed that decision to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial on the adoption and parental rights issues.

That case was heard by Greene County Juvenile Court Judge David Jones in a two-week trial. In a 62-page ruling, he terminated the biological mother’s parental rights on the grounds of “abandonment, neglect and parental unfitness.”

Issues surrounding the case have attracted international attention. The Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S. attended an earlier hearing when the case was before the Missouri Supreme Court.

The child was 11 months old when the mother was arrested in May 2007 in an immigration raid while she was working at a Barry County poultry processing plant. She left her child with her brother, who turned him over to a sister. She then left the baby with a Carthage couple who agreed to the adoption by the Mosers.

The mother’s parental rights were terminated based on arguments that the child had been abandoned because the mother made no attempt to maintain contact with or provide for the boy during the two years she was incarcerated, even though she had the means to do so.

Though much of the arguments focused on the time when the mother was in jail, the court also found that she left the child in a hospital after giving birth, that she failed to keep doctor appointments or obtain baby formula or other help available for the child, and that she made no arrangements to ensure that the infant would be cared for in case she was arrested. The court found that the biological mother was an unfit parent and that a change in custody would not be in the best interests of the child.

Deportation

IMMIGRANTS WHO ARE IN THE U.S. without proper documents and are jailed on violations of immigration law normally are deported, but Encarnacion Romero has been allowed to remain in the country to appeal the termination of her parental rights.

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