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Editorial: 'Baby Vanessa' needs a parent


JULY 26, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Dayton Daily News (DDN) Sunday, July 25, 2010. View the contents here, or read on the DDN website.

Editorial: 'Baby Vanessa' needs a parent

By the Dayton Daily News | Sunday, July 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

There isn't a judge in his or her right mind who is going to give Benjamin Mills Jr. his biological daughter, a 2-year-old named Vanessa who has spent her entire short life with a California woman who's trying to adopt her.

But the process of formally getting to a decision is making the courts and other authorities appear as if they've lost their minds.

JULY 26, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Dayton Daily News (DDN) Sunday, July 25, 2010. View the contents here, or read on the DDN website.

Editorial: 'Baby Vanessa' needs a parent

By the Dayton Daily News | Sunday, July 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

There isn't a judge in his or her right mind who is going to give Benjamin Mills Jr. his biological daughter, a 2-year-old named Vanessa who has spent her entire short life with a California woman who's trying to adopt her.

But the process of formally getting to a decision is making the courts and other authorities appear as if they've lost their minds.

Mr. Mills has four other children, none of whom is in his custody, two of whom are being raised by his mother. He served time in prison for domestic violence against his daughter's birth mother.

Despite this track record, he has filed for custody of Vanessa, thereby throwing a legal wrench in Stacey Doss' efforts to finalize a private adoption of Vanessa in California, which the birth mother initiated.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Children Services has been drawn into the legal tug-of-war, and the agency has paid several thousand dollars to fly Mr. Mills to California for supervised visitation of the child.

Mr. Mills has chosen to exercise every right known to man and fathers to prevent his child from going to what, by all appearances, is a good home. And taxpayers are paying the bill. He has Legal Aid lawyers in Ohio and California.

Legal Aid of Western Ohio, which assists low-income individuals with civil legal matters, makes choices every day about what kinds of cases it will and will not take. Just because you ask for help doesn't mean you get a free lawyer. Judgments are made about the importance of a case, the chance of prevailing and the magnitude of an alleged injustice.

While terminating parental rights is serious business, Mr. Mills and his lawyers have to know that he can only be obstructionist, that he doesn't have a prayer of gaining custody. And he's hardly the ideal candidate to make the case that parental rights are sacred.

Also worth considering is that Mr. Mills is pressing his case against adoption in California, not just Ohio.

He can be given his day in court, but he doesn't have to be assisted in his effort to go to the mat in two places — there and in Montgomery County.

In truth, lawyers on both sides are doing what's called "forum-shopping."

Ms. Doss, who has known almost from the beginning that Mr. Mills was opposed to the adoption, wants to be heard in California because her attorneys believe that California's law is more favorable to her than Ohio's. They argue that the case should be resolved there because that's where the adoption papers were filed, adding that Ms. Doss filed them before Mr. Mills went to court in Montgomery County.

Mr. Mills and his lawyer, on the other hand, are here in Ohio, and they want to make this a custody battle rather than an adoption battle. That distinction matters because even if he loses custody — with Ms. Doss possibly getting Vanessa — he'd still be in the picture.

The child couldn't be put up for adoption without his consent. Or he'd have to have his parental rights terminated, which is a long, torturous process.

Mr. Mills has done all the right things to protect his rights, including adding his name to a registry that requires he be notified if a child he believes he fathered is put up for adoption.

(That registry was created to make it easier to adopt a child when, typically, the father has disappeared. It puts the burden on a biological father to say he has an interest in a child, rather than on the would-be adoptive parents or birth mother to get the man's permission. The theory is that if a father is so uninterested that he didn't know he got someone pregnant, or if he has so little contact with the birth mother that he doesn't even know she's pregnant, then he forfeits his right to object.)

It's also not Mr. Mills' fault that this case has dragged on for so long, with judges punting decisions back and forth between two states.

A custody hearing is set for Thursday, July 29, in Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Nick Kuntz's court. That might not go forward, though, because Judge Kuntz could decide to wait to see if a California court of appeals orders a lower California court judge to proceed with the adoption hearing.

A lot of time, money and emotion are being wasted trying to decide a case that has unusual wrinkles. Let Mr. Mills be heard in California, let him object to the adoption there and let that judge pick.

There's no splitting the baby.
 


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