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CNN LARRY KING LIVEWho are the rightful parents of 3-year-old Evan
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a prime time exclusive. Who are the rightful parents of 3-year-old Evan. Inside a gut-wrenching legal war between his birth mother and father and a couple who raised him most of his young life.
With us, Dawn and Gene Scott. A judge has ordered them to hand Evan over to his birth mother earlier this month. Plus, Garrett Barket, attorney for the birth father and more, all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: In this first segment we’re going to talk to the adoptive parent who almost legally adopted the child. And with us in Jacksonville, Florida is Susan Pniewski. Susan is the attorney for Gene and Dawn Scott who are with us here in Los Angeles.
A little background, about three and a half years ago, Amanda Johnson gave birth to a boy named Evan. Johnson who was then unmarried decided before the birth to have Gene and Dawn Scott, our guest, adopt her child. There you see the baby. In order for the adoption to move forward, the consent of the father, Steven White, was required. But Steven White didn’t know that he and Amanda Johnson had conceived a child until he was contacted during the Scott’s attorney during adoption proceedings — shortly before Evan was born. And then he then fought attempts by the Scott’s to adopt the biological child. The Scott’s pedition — petition for adoption was dismissed in March of 2002, but the Scott’s were allowed to act as the boy’s custodians, while legal wrangling continued. And they raised Evan for three and a half years. A judge recently ordered that Evan be returned to his biological mother, Amanda Hopkins, she is now married. And the Scott’s had to hand him over earlier this month. Television cameras were there to capture the drama. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amanda, how does it feel to have your son go?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up. Back up. Hey, back off. Out! You whacked me in the head with that camera, man, what’s up?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Oh, you were childless, right, except for Evan?
GENE SCOTT, RAISED 3-YEAR-OLD BOY, LOST CUSTODY TO BIRTH MOTHER: Yes.
DAWN GENE SCOTT, RAISED 3-YEAR-OLD BOY, LOST CUSTODY TO BIRTH MOTHER: Yes, that’s correct.
KING: How did you hook? Who arrange this to meet with the birth mother?
D. SCOTT: Actually, I worked with her mother and the meeting was kind of arranged through a third party.
KING: You both worked in the same place.
D. SCOTT: Right.
KING: And she got pregnant, was not married.
D. SCOTT: Well, actually, Amanda’s mother — Amanda’s mother worked at my workplace and Amanda lived in Maine. She got pregnant in Maine.
KING: So, the mother told you about it?
D. SCOTT: A friend of the mother.
KING: And you went to Maine?
G. SCOTT: No, Amanda moved down here.
D. SCOTT: No.
KING: She moved to Florida.
G. SCOTT: Correct, to escape the biological father.
KING: So the father is in Maine. The biological mother runs away while pregnant.
G. SCOTT: Correct.
KING: To come down to Florida, not runs away. She leaves and goes down to Florida where she gives birth. And you get the baby at the birth.
D. SCOTT: At birth.
KING: Why wasn’t it legally adopted right then?
D. SCOTT: There’s actually a process with the Florida adoption law. The biological father has to be given notice of the adoption, and he was. He was notified 40 days before Evan was born, and he didn’t come forward. When Evan was born, he was placed with us and we were given custody of him by the adoption court. It was later on that he filed a petition — answered an objection to the petition for adoption, and he was allowed to intervene.
KING: But you got to keep Evan, right?
G. SCOTT: Yes. At the time when Evan was born in May, we didn’t receive anything from the biological father until July. So basically the consent hearing — the, excuse me, the final hearing was set for August the 22nd, which would end the proceedings and we would legally adopt him. That was turned into a consent hearing for the biological father because of his answering objection.
KING: Susan Pniewski, the lawyer for Gene and Dawn Scott, I know each state had different laws, you don’t adopt — you don’t really adopt the baby when you take it home from the hospital?
SUSAN PNIEWSKI, ATTORNEY FOR DAWN & GENE SCOTT: Actually, no, you don’t adopt the baby. There is a process, as Dawn and Skip has mentioned, and there are steps that need to be followed. And we have to protect the rights of all the parties involved, that’s why everybody has to be noticed. And everybody has to be given the opportunity to participate if they choose to. And…
KING: Since it’s not legal then until the baby is clearly adopted, why did the courts give the baby to the Scott’s?
PNIEWSKI: At that point in time, that was how it was done frequently, and it has changed somewhat at this point in time. But during that time that was what was proper to do, that’s why he was placed with them at birth.
KING: Did you know then, Gene and Dawn, that there was a possibility you could raise him for a while and lose him?
D. SCOTT: At that time we didn’t believe that was a possibility because we believed the law was clear. There were five requirements that the biological father, under statutory law at the time had to meet, and he hadn’t met any of those requirements. And that was under the adoption statutes that were in place at the time. The law has since changed. If Evan were 2-years-old now, instead of four, his adoption would be finalized.
KING: Even without the — even with the fathers.
D. SCOTT: Because he was — he did not register with the paternity registry within 30 days. If the father doesn’t respond, his rights are terminated.
KING: Did the father — we’ll talk to the father’s lawyer in a little while. Gene, do you understand me, want this baby to live with him?
G. SCOTT: That was our understanding, but the courts left Evan in our custody because it was in Evan’s best interest to stay with us. Biological mother was on our side telling us, fight, fight, fight, keep him away from him, he’s a monster. Keep him away. Keep him away. I’ll stick with you the whole way.
KING: And then she changed, right?
D. SCOTT: Recently.
G. SCOTT: Yes, early fall, late summer, 2004.
KING: Had she not changed, would Evan still be with you?
G. SCOTT: That’s a good question, possibly.
KING: You don’t know. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
G. SCOTT: We don’t know, because the courts we don’t know what the courts are going to do.
KING: She has since married, right? Has another child?
D. SCOTT: Correct. Now, what — what we need to understand is this was not a permanent placement, this was a temporary situation. It was a temporary custody move until a final determination is made for Evan’s custody. We have an appeal on file right now that speaks to our standing. And there’s another appeal on file that speaks to the impropriety of Evan being moved into a temporary placement.
KING: So, Susan, they could get Evan back in.
PNIEWSKI: There’s always a chance that they could return him, yes.
KING: And then another court could overrule that court, they could bounce him around. It seems that the child is victim in this, Susan, in bad law.
PNIEWSKI: That appears to be the case. I think that we all tend to forget, when were talking about who’s rights are being trampled upon, that I think that the child needs to be paramount in everything. And I think, perhaps, that’s gone by the way side in this case.
KING: Was the law part of the fault, Susan?
PNIEWSKI: I think that the application of the law was definitely part of the problem here.
KING: In other words, if you had sounder law, this boy would have been with the Scott’s permanently and done already, right? Or if not, at least not with them for three and a half years.
PNIEWSKI: Right, exactly. If the laws as they are today were in place then, then this wouldn’t have happened. So, perhaps it was too little, too late in this case.
KING: All right. I want to read — we do have a statement from Elaine Lucas, the attorney for the biological mother, who is not represented on the program, Amanda Hopkins. That’s her name right? This is what the lawyer for the mother says. “At this time we’re complying with the court’s orders. We believe the Judge Wallace was very thorough in each of his orders, taking into consideration all the evidence, testimony of the expert witnesses and the law. He was very conscientious and respectful of the position of all parties and gave everyone the opportunity to be heard over an extended period of time.
In rendering his decision, he had the best interest of the child in mind and tried to minimize any trauma or harm to the child in accordance with the experts recommendation in placing the child with the mother in the temporary order of custody. The family is settling in and enjoying having everyone home. And asks that their right to privacy be respected for their safety and welfare.”
Obviously, you do not agree with that statement, right?
D. SCOTT: Absolutely not.
KING: You think the judge misread read (ph) this?
D. SCOTT: There are several points in there. If the judge would have read the record, he wouldn’t have made the decision he made.
G. SCOTT: It was full of half truths, non-truths and out right lies, fabrications.
KING: Susan, was it the expert witnesses that beat you?
PNIEWSKI: I think that there were expert witnesses on all sides and I don’t think there was anything conclusive coming out of any of the expert witnesses, other than to move the child on a temporary basis is harmful. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened anyway.
KING: We did invite the couple — or we did invite the mother and the mother’s attorney to be with us, and they declined. And we’ll take a break. And when we come back, we’ll be joined by the attorney for the biological father. Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. SCOTT: Nobody will listen to me! Nobody! The guardian ad litem wouldn’t listen to me! Nobody, would! He’s only been with that woman five days, seven nights, whatever, hardly any time at all. He does not know here. Those paternal grandparents have been fighting for this little boy forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With us here in Los Angeles, Gene and Dawn Scott, the couple who lost custody of Evan, the litlte boy they raised for nearly all his life and tried to adopt, to a biological mother. In Jacksonville, Florida, is Susan Pniewski, the attorney for Gene and Dawn Scott. Joining us also in Jacksonville is Garrett Barket, the attorney for Evan’s biological father. His name is Steven White. He lives in Maine. And Michael Shorstein, adoption attorney, member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, who is very familiar with this case. Michael, what do you make of this? MICHAEL SHORSTEIN, MEMBER, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ADOPTION ATTORNEYS: Well, Larry, I think what’s most important is people have to understand that the biological parents have the fundamental right for the care, control and custody of their children, and I think that’s what’s being overlooked here.
KING: Then why did the court let the Scotts have the child for three and a half years?
SHORSTEIN: Well, number one, you had — you’re talking about five different judges, three different cases. You had an adoption case, which as you said, was dismissed in March of 2002. Then right after that, there was a dependency case, in which the Scotts tried to prolong the proceedings by filing this dependency case and trying to find the father to be unfit, and the dependency case held the father was fit. And during the pendency of that, the adoption appeal came back against the Scotts. So, again, you have a prolonging…
KING: I get what you mean, but Michael, you can understand the emotional trauma that the Scotts are going through.
SHORSTEIN: Oh, I understand, and I feel for the Scotts.
KING: I mean, they didn’t do anything wrong, did they?
SHORSTEIN: No, they didn’t do anything wrong as long as they understood that this was an at-risk placement. That’s what we call it when adoptive parents take custody of the child knowing the risks involved. And in this case, the risk was that the biological father would at the time he either had to consent or abandon the child.
KING: Even though the mother was supportive of them.
SHORSTEIN: That’s correct, but the biological father had the right to parent the child.
KING: Now, Garrett, since he was not married to the mother, your client, Steven White, he lives in Maine, why was he so engrossed in this? Why did he want so much to take that child away from people who had raised him?
GARRETT BARKET, ATTORNEY FOR 3-YEAR-OLD EVAN’S BIRTH FATHER: Well, you have to understand, he did not have a desire to take the child from people who the courts placed his child with. He expressed a desire from the very beginning to raise this child. His father immediately contacted the attorney for the Scotts upon learning that there was going to be a birth and the subsequent adoption, and voiced their objection to the adoption proceedings, and stated plain and clear and in no uncertain terms that he wanted custody of that child.
KING: Now, he doesn’t have custody. The wife, the woman who he fathered the child with, she’s married to someone else. She has another child. Does he get — what is his position now?
BARKET: Well, right now we’re taking a step back and we’re going to look at the entire — the paternity case, because that’s the one case that’s still open and on the table, and we’re going to weigh our options.
The court did make some important findings. The court did find that he was fit to have unsupervised visitation, and, indeed, gave him a fairly large amount of structured visitation, considering the logistics, the distance between where the father lives and the mother lives.
KING: And he can have that now?
BARKET: In fact, I think the first visitation is due to take place some time in March. The mother and father are cooperating. They’ve been talking on the phone. The child and the dad are talking on the phone, and things are going actually quite well between the biological parents.
KING: Susan, has anything been said by Garrett or Michael that you would take exception to?
PNIEWSKI: There is a couple of things. I think if you want to term immediately responding to be 13 weeks after notification, I guess he did respond somewhat promptly. And this, obviously, this has taken quite a long time. And while I feel for the biological parents, the fact is that the biological father is getting visitation, and that’s the same visitation that he would have been given freely by the Scotts if he would have just asked. So — and all he’s done is rip the child from his home and place him in a home with another person who had voluntarily given him up. So I don’t see the point.
KING: Let’s check in with — I’ll come bak to you, good point. We’ll check in with Dan Leveton, a reporter for WJXT in Jacksonville, one of the few reporters to interview the biological mother, Amanda Hopkins. Let’s watch a quick segment of that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANDA HOPKINS: You know, they raised Evan for three years. I’m not discrediting that. And I know that they love Evan to pieces. I don’t doubt that at all either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, Dan, what do you make of this?
DAN LEVETON, WJXT-TV: Well, it’s obviously a very difficult case for everybody involved. Amanda, when we interviewed her, we just happened to be there at the right time. And that came after — the day after the judge in this case went ahead and released the gag order on some of these issues, and so she invited us to talk to us.
She seemed very sincere about what she had to say. She seemed very excited to have Evan coming back up there. She also refused to really blame anybody but herself in this case. She said there are a lot of peole at fault; she also agreed that she was partially at fault and seh had made some mistakes in the past.
But she also seemed to have her house in order. She has another child, as we’ve already talked about. She’s married, and she seems to be pretty stable at this point.
KING: This is a case for Solomon. Is there a great deal of sympathy, Dan, for the Scotts in Jacksonville?
LEVETON: That would be putting it lightly. Yeah, of course, this is, you know, thsi is a hometown family. A lot of sympathy because of really what’s happened. The child has grown up here, three and a half years in Jacksonville with his family. I think if this was true of any community or any other family in another communit, they would feel the same way. Great neighborhood, great parents here. They raised him as their own. There is obviously — you’ve seen some of the tape — the emotion between this family and that child and the affection that we saw, absolutely amazing.
And so, of course, it’s going to be very difficult for them. It’s very difficulty for the community. It was actually very difficult for a lot of us in the media to watch this happen.
KING: Is the fault the courts, the law, what? It ain’t the fault of the Scotts.
LEVETON: Certainly not. If they did anything, they went above and beyond. They did what they could. And they still want to raise this child as their own. They’ve done a tremendous job. He’s a wonderful child. As whether or not it’s the court’s fault, really that’s not for me to say. What we hav been told — what we’ve had a lot of people say, no matter what side of the case you fall on here, whoever you want to believe, that the courts might have erred in not taking care of this quicker. Could they hav done that? I don’t know, but the fact that it dragged out three and a half years — the child, of course, became bonded with the Scotts, and it’s very, very difficult to pull him out of that environment.
KING: Thank you, Dan. Dan Leveton of WJXT in Jacksonville. We’ll come back with more. Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOPKINS: I do believe that I’m at fault somehow. I believe that everybody in this whole case is at fault. Not just one specific person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’re back. When the biological father did not respond quickly, did you think this was over and done?
D. SCOTT: Sure.
G. SCOTT: Yes, our lawyer said the longer it takes for him to respond, the better chances we have because his consent won’t be required because his consent won’t be required because he hasn’t fulfilled one of the five requirements at that time at Florida law.
KING: Did he question whether he was the father?
G. SCOTT: Yes, I think he did. He actually wanted, in some proceeding, wanted to have a DNA test to question the baby’s race.
KING: The grandparents got involved, right?
D. SCOTT: The grandparents were actually the first ones to get involved. The grandfather was the one that contacted our adoption attorney first.
KING: The father’s father?
D. SCOTT: Exactly.
KING: And what was his involvement?
D. SCOTT: His involvement was, well, when he first called, he said I’m the potential grandfather. I want a DNA test. And our adoption attorney said, what is your son’s position on this adoption? We’ve been trying to get ahold of him. We’ve been trying to get some news from him. He said, well, my son doesn’t have a position on this adoption. My wife wants to know if she has a grandchild out there.
KING: Do, Garrett, the grandparents have a say in all this legally?
BARKET: Legally they probably would not in the state of Florida. But you have to understand that the grandfather in this case, by chance, he’s an attorney in New Hampshire, and when he contacted the attorney for the Scotts, he was contacting her, the attorney, in his position and capacity as attorney for his son. So the conversation started about the DNA test. There was an agreement to do a DNA test. My client paid for it. He went and gave his DNA sample. They waited at the time for the Scotts to take the child and give his sample. Thirty days passed and no sample was given and communications — it’s now towards the end of June. Communications were — basically he asked why, and they said, well, we’ve changed our mind. We’re not going to do it.
KING: Whey didn’t you let the DNA — hold it — why didn’t you let it go through?
D. SCOTT: First of all, we never agreed to a DNA test.
KING: Why not?
D. SCOTT: Our attorney advised us at the time that this was not the father that was asking for it, this was the grandparents. And there was no court order, there was no petition for it. The father still hadn’t come forward, that we absolutely did not have to do that.
KING: Susan, you felt the grandparents had no status in the court, right?
PNIEWSKI: Larry, I wasn’t actually the attorney involved for the Scotts at that point in time. KING: Would you gather that that was the reasoning?
PNIEWSKI: From what I’ve seen of the file, she didn’t believe that the grandfather was acting in his capacity as an attorney because he’s not licensed here in Florida and he never indicated that he was acting in that capacity. He indicated that he was acting, from the notes I’ve seen of the conversation, that he was acting on a personal interest.
KING: Michael, don’t you have sympathy for the Scotts?
SHORSTEIN: Larry, I have sympathy for the Scotts, but unfortunately they were either given bad advice or they didn’t follow the advice they were given because they should not have taken custody in an at-risk situation…
KING: What should they have done, left the baby with whom?
SHORSTEIN: In that case, they could have either placed the baby in temporary care, which is done all the time.
KING: Like a foster home?
SHORSTEIN: In a foster home or a licensed temporary family, but you certainly don’t want to temporarily place the child with adoptive parents that could lose the child.
KING: Why do you do that?
SHORSTEIN: And Larry, if they would have temporarily placed the child in a foster facility or home, which is a wonderful home, either a doctor or a lawyer. We have wonderfully licensed homes, that child, the case would have been over four months after the petition was filed.
KING: Why didn’t you do that, Gene?
G. SCOTT: Basically because we felt we didn’t have to. We were told that we would be able to take him home. Steven didn’t respond, and from all indications, from what we gathered through information through his probation officer that he didn’t want anything to do with the child as it was.
KING: You didn’t realize you were rolling some dice?
D. SCOTT: We never signed an at-risk agreement. Our adoption attorney never told us that it was an at-risk placement because the five requirements had not been filled and we absolutely took placement of him, not thinking that it was a risky situation whatsoever.
KING: So Michael, they thought they were in the right.
SHORSTEIN: Larry, by living in another state — well, they lived in Florida, but they would have had to have signed an at-risk agreement. It’s part of the law. If you place the child at an at- risk situation they have to be told by the adoption professional. KING: Were you told that?
G. SCOTT: No.
D. SCOTT: No.
KING: They weren’t told that, Michael.
D. SCOTT: It’s not in the file.
SHORSTEIN: If the father doesn’t consent and the father doesn’t abandon the child, then you can’t have an adoption. And ten months after the adoption petition was filed, it was dismissed. So they knew within ten months that this wasn’t going to happen.
KING: So you’re saying the baby is ten months old, they now have to give it up.
D. SCOTT: To who?
SHORSTEIN: In ten months, Larry, they had no legal right to the child.
KING: Did you know that?
D. SCOTT: But they still placed the child there.
KING: Did you know that? The courts placed it there. But did you know that it was a temporary basis, in other words, that you could lose it?
D. SCOTT: There was always that thinking, but the court placed him in our custody because they said it was in his best interest. The biological father had a history that made him not a safe placement and that the biological mother supported the placement. What were we to do? We couldn’t just toss him out.
KING: We get a break and we’ll be back. Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. SCOTT: Mommy and daddy will try real hard to get you to come back home, OK? But it might be a long time.
G. SCOTT: We don’t want you to go, boo.
D. SCOTT: Your room will still be here. Your toys will still be here but you can take your stuff with you. You can take your TV.
G. SCOTT: And your videos and your monster truck game.
Daddy is going to start packing some of your stuff up.
D. SCOTT: Sorry, pookie.
G. SCOTT: We don’t want you to go. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’ll try and include some phone calls as well. For Gene and Dawn Scott, the couple who lost custody of Evan, the little boy they raised for nearly all his life and tried to adopt lost the custody to the biological mother. That boy is now in Illinois. Susan Pniewsky is the attorney for Gene and Dawn Scott. She’s in Jacksonville.
Also in Jacksonville is Garrett Barket, the attorney for Evan’s biological father, Steven White. And Michael Shorstein, adoption attorney and member of the American academy of adoption attorneys, is quite familiar with this case. Was this a private or state adoption?
D. SCOTT: Private adoption.
KING: Private. But the state gets involved, right? It’s done through a lawyer?
D. SCOTT: Through a lawyer, the courts are involved. And there are still procedures that need to be followed.
KING: I want to show you another home video here, part of that film we just showed you Gene and Dawn and little Evan. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. SCOTT: You know what? If you miss mommy and daddy, you ask Amanda if you can call us on the telephone, OK? Tell her I want to call my mommy and my daddy, OK? Are you listening? You tell her. And you’ll probably see daddy Steve too, but you won’t see mommy and daddy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Why did you do that?
D. SCOTT: We had to tell him the truth. We had to be truthful with him. We couldn’t act like this was just another visit, because he can’t think that we lied to him.
KING: Was that tape used in court anywhere, Gene?
G. SCOTT: No. Actually that was when he was leaving.
KING: Why was it taped?
G. SCOTT: For record. Mainly when he is going to come back looking for us. I know he will if he doesn’t come home early enough. We had to have a record of the fact that we didn’t want this to happen. I don’t want him to blame us in 20 years for giving him up and show him that we fought as much as we could for him.
KING: So if you don’t see him until he was 20-years-old, you want to show that to him.
G. SCOTT: Right. And not only that, he can go on the web and pull up his name and there’s 33,000 hits.
D. SCOTT: The truth will be out there.
G. SCOTT: then the truth will be out there.
D. SCOTT: The true story.
G. SCOTT: That tape tells the truth.
KING: It’s on a Web site you have?
G. SCOTT: That, no.
D. SCOTT: Well, actually the story is on www.hearmyvoice.org, the whole story from start to finish.
D. SCOTT: And it’s Evan’s story is on there. And there’s other children that are in similar situations stories on there as well. And they’re going to continually have updates on Evan’s case.
KING: Susan, legally, where are we right now? There’s a rule to show cause why he should not come back. Where are we?
PNIEWSKI: Right now we have two different matters pending with the first district court of appeals. One is that they’re asking for an appeal on the standing, whether or not the Scotts have standing to participate in this case. And that’s been going on for more than 6 months now.
The other appeal was filed very recently. And that was asking them to hold on to the transfer barring the district court of appeals’ review of the appropriateness of a temporary placement. We haven’t had a decision on either of those at this moment.
KING: Those appeals are where?
PNIEWSKI: In the first district court of appeals in Tallahassee.
KING: The same court heard both arguments?
PNIEWSKI: There have been no arguments on the second appeal as of yet.
KING: But it’s the same judges that will hear it.
PNIEWSKI: It’s the same court.
KING: So it might be different judges in the same court.
PNIEWSKI: Yes, it could be.
KING: Garrett, has the biological father filed responses in these appeals?
BARKET: They have filed. I know the response has been filed to the initial appeal and challenge in the standing ruling by our local judge. And I know a response is in the process of being filed on their petition for writ of cerciory (ph) asking the court to intervene in the transfer, which is a little late. But nonetheless, appropriate responses will be filed.
KING: The biological father is going to visit the child this weekend, you said?
BARKET: No. They have they have it set up I think in the month of March. I don’t know the exact dates. And the visit will occur — my client will fly to Chicago, pick up the child and return to Maine and spend a certain amount of time with the child and then return him back to Chicago. And then there’s also a visit set up for summer which could be anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks continuous, even though it very well may get broken up into maybe 2 to 3-week periods.
KING: Does your client know the child?
BARKET: Absolutely he knows the child. He was finally given court-ordered visitation, I believe it was in early 2003 or 2002. And he has visited continuously every chance he was given by the courts he visited. And I’d point out that he had to go to court to get his visitation, because the Scotts were not willing to give him any visitation whatsoever as long as he pursued his claim to custody of his own child.
KING: Is that true?
G. SCOTT: No. We offered him visitation. It wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted to take him out of state.
KING: You didn’t want him taken out of state.
D. SCOTT: He didn’t even know the child.
G. SCOTT: And we were fearing for Evan’s safety because of Steven’s history.
BARKET: Larry, we have it in writing from their counsel that plain as day says if he’s going to pursue his custody claim then he will have no visitation voluntarily and they’ll have to go to court. It’s in black and white.
KING: Let’s go to New York and Dr. David Brodzinsky. Dr. Brodzinsky is professor of developmental psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, author of “The Psychology of Adoption.”
Dr. Brodzinsky, what’s your overview of all of this.
DR. DAVID BRODZISNKY, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Well, it’s a difficult case. These cases are always difficult, and they almost inevitably bring heartache to all the parties. I think the real issue in these kinds of cases is making sure that an evaluation and a hearing is done in an expedited fashion. Clearly it wasn’t the case here.
KING: What’s the effect — you talk about the psychology of adoption — what’s the effect of this on Evan?
KING: Who’s the only one that really matters the most, right?
BRODZINSKY: Correct, at least primarily. I think we can speak more easily to the short-term effects. We can expect some problems with some sleeping, some problems with eating, perhaps, perhaps some regression in toileting behavior. Children are highly variable, though, each child responds differently. And in the long run, it has to do with the quality of care that he’s going to get in the biological family.
KING: Is there a possibility he might not remember the Scotts?
BRODZINSKY: It’s a possibility, yes.
KING: So then the key here is how this new family treats him?
BRODZINSKY: That’s correct.
KING: What happens if the court overrules and gives him back to the Scotts, what happens to his psyche if this becomes a bouncing ball?
BRODZINSKY: It’ll be very damaging for him. The sense of security that he probably developed with the Scotts probably has been, at least partially shaken now with the removal and the return of the biological family. If he’s returned again now and bounced back and forth, inevitably has long-term consequences.
KING: All right. Legal aside, talking as just person to a person, where does your heart lie here?
BRODZINSKY: I suppose it would lie with having kept the child with the pre-adoptive family and trying to create some kind of open adoption placement with the biological family. In other words, preventing the separation problems, and yet trying to give him the best of both worlds.
KING: In other words, logically, let’s say you might have worked out a situation where Gene and Dawn retain custody of Evan, but the biological father and the biological mother can see him.
BRODZINSKY: Correct. Yes, it’s done…
KING: This is Solomon-esque, right? That is done.
BRODZINSKY: That is done.
KING: Thank you, Dr. Brodzinsky.
And Michael, what do you make of that? As a matter — in some ways, it’s a kind of a sensible solution here, the father doesn’t really know the child, the mother doesn’t know the child. These people know the child, they’ve helped raise them. So you give it to the Scotts, and then you allow the mother and the father, biological both, to see them.
SHORSTEIN: Absolutely, Larry. It’s my understanding, they’re talking with one of the judges that there at one point was a court- ordered mediation in order to try to resolve it, which absolutely would have been my suggestion, to try to resolve it among the parties so that everyone would be able to participate…
KING: So what happened?
SHORSTEIN: … in raising the child.
KING: what happened with that?
SHORSTEIN: There was an impasse.
D. SCOTT: There were five mediations, actually, all at our urging…
G. SCOTT: All were impassed.
D. SCOTT: All were impasses.
D. SCOTT: And we…
G. SCOTT: Couldn’t come to terms.
D. SCOTT: We tried to get as creative as we possibly could so that Evan wouldn’t be put in harm’s way.
KING: Was there any part of that offer where they said you can keep the child…
G. SCOTT: Never.
D. SCOTT: Absolutely not.
KING: That was never offered?
D. SCOTT: That was — it was…
KING: Never offered?
D. SCOTT: We can’t really talk about what happened in the mediation, but that was never on the table.
KING: We’ll take a break and be right back. Thanks, Dr. Brodzinsky. Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. SCOTT: It’s going to happen. She’s going to be coming real soon. Do you understand? Evan?
Listen to us.
G. SCOTT: You have to talk to us.
D. SCOTT: You have to, baby. We have things we need to say to you. OK?
G. SCOTT: That we love you and we’re sorry that we have to let you go. We don’t want to. We want you to stay here forever and ever, but we can’t right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let’s take a call. North Kingston, Rhode Island, hello.
CALLER: Thank you for taking my call, Larry.
CALLER: My heart goes out to this couple. I am 53 years old, and I’m an adult adoptee. And I was taken from my foster parents when I was 13 months old and placed with my adoptive parents, who are wonderful. However, it still has an impact on me when I was taken at 13 months. And what can we do to change these laws?
KING: We’ll ask the attorney. What do you think, Susan?
PNIEWSKI: I think that they’ve already been making very good strides towards changing the laws to better protect the children, but I think there’s a good ways to go. The only way to make a change is to start making some noise. Call your local — your senator, call your congressmen. Ask them to help you.
KING: Let’s check in with one of my favorite people, I’ve read almost all his books, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. He’s in Boston. Pediatrician, child developmental expert, professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the new book “Text Points: 3 to 6.” Dr. Brazelton, what do you make of this?
DR. T. BERRY BRAZELTON, PEDIATRICIAN: That poor kid. You know, all of our hearts go out to the child. All of the adults have lawyers or somebody taking their part, but nobody stands up for this kid. They talk about an ad litem person that looks at the kid’s best interests, but, you know, you don’t see it come through. The child is at the biggest risk. This is a frightening situation, and I think we ought to all be fighting, as Susan says, to get something done about the courts that are this whimsical about what happens to children. I’ve talked to the judges in family courts. They don’t have either the knowledge or the time to think about what happens to each of these kids. We’ve got to change that.
KING: Dr. Brazelton, the solution we’ve been talking about before, which didn’t work out in mediation, of remaining with the Scotts, to visitation to the biological parents. Was that the soundest thing to you?
BRAZELTON: Yeah, I thought that was a very interesting idea and a very good one. I wish that could have happened. Somebody would have been fighting for this child could have said that. You could see this little boy’s, you know, attempts to try to protect himself. Here, everybody says, oh, he won’t remember it at this age.
That is absolutely crazy. Everything we know about children who have been either abused or neglected or frightened as kids are these days in the war, know that this keeps recurring over and over through most of their lives. I would expect this child to show a post- traumatic syndrome at some point in his life and need some help.
KING: So he’s going to have a problem no matter how this all winds up?
BRAZELTON: Well, I would expect it. I hope he won’t, but I think he certainly showed some evidence when the mother — when Mrs. Scott got down on the floor and said, oh, but we don’t want to give you up and was showing how anxious she was and how much she was trying to push it on him. He sort of defended himself. And she said, don’t you hear me? Well, he was trying not to. He was trying to defend himself from the pain of this.
KING: The pain mostly is on him, right?
BRAZELTON: It looked like it to me. I would be very concerned about that, and I hope this biological family that he’s gone into will pay attention to his side of it. They sound as if they’ve got their hands full already. They’ve got one child and maybe another one on the way, and I just hope they have enough energy to take care of this child’s issues.
BARKET: Larry, if I can respond to that.
BARKET: Indeed, the mother and the father both have child psychologists in their parts of the area where they live for the purpose of assisting Evan should he need any help.
I do want to advise the doctor here that there were four experts that testified in this hearing, and the Scotts’ own expert said that there was about a 21 percent chance, only a 21 percent chance, that this child would suffer any long-term detriment. That means 79 out of a 100 are not going to suffer the detriment. The other three experts…
KING: Garrett, why would it have bothered your client if the Scotts would have had the custody and he had visitation? Since he’s not going to have custody with the other woman, what’s the difference to him as long as the child is reared well?
BARKET: My client did not conceive a child with Scott — Mrs. Scott, and he had no interest in…
KING: But he’s not with the mother.
BARKET: Well, he’s not with her, they’re not married, they’re not dating, they’re not together.
KING: They’re not together at all.
BARKET: Well, I can’t tell you the number…
KING: So if he had the — if he had the same visitation with that mother or the Scotts, what’s the difference to him?
BARKET: Because I don’t think he has any interest in raising a child with a woman he knows nothing about. Nothing at all.
KING: He’s not raising him with this one.
BARKET: No, he knows — listen, they dated. They at least know each other. They get along. That’s something to be said that Mrs. Scott and my client have never seen eye to eye from day one.
KING: He was even questioning whether he was the father.
BARKET: Excuse me?
KING: He was questioning whether he was the father.
BARKET: No, it’s a normal course of business in the legal field to — you know, if he had — if they had done the DNA test and he was not the father, we wouldn’t be here today.
BARKET: But the key is…
KING: I guess — I just don’t — why it would make a big difference to him, as long as he sees the child?
BARKET: He wants to…
KING: Knowing that the child is well taken care of should be his paramount thing, right?
BARKET: It is his paramount thing. It’s number one on his agenda and has been. He’s been asking for custody of that child since 30 days, 45 days after the child was born.
KING: Let me get a break. And Dr. Brazelton, thank you for your wise words. We’ll come back with our remaining moments. Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) D. SCOTT: He never got a day in court. And you know what? I can say now what I want to say now he’s gone. I’m not going to be silent anymore. That little boy has been traumatized and hurt and nobody cares! Nobody!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’re back. I want to get a couple of comments here with Thomas Atwood, the president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption. He is in Washington, D.C. I understand, Thomas, you think that the courts are to blame here, right?
THOMAS ATWOOD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION: That’s right, Larry. Evan, this little boy, is entitled — has been all along entitled to a timely and responsible permanent placement decision, and that’s the job of the courts. The courts have let Evan down. They did not deal with the biological father’s rights issue in a timely manner, and they allowed what should have been a decision about the best interests of this little boy to turn into a debate about parental rights.
KING: Should potential adoptive parents watch this tonight and have concern?
ATWOOD: No, and I’m glad you asked, because for every one case like this where a child gets removed from a pre-adoptive family, after living with a family for a long period of time, there are tens of thousands of cases that go through smoothly. Certainly it points to the fact that perspective parents need to do their homework. They need to know what the laws are in their state regarding the biological father’s rights. They need to know what kind of a risk they’re willing to take if the father’s signature can’t obtained for one reason or another.
KING: Once the adoption is legal, though, even though some adoptive parents — or some biological parents may get the idea of wanting the child back, that would be very hard, wouldn’t it?
ATWOOD: Once the adoption is final, it’s impossible for the child…
ATWOOD: … to be removed from the adoptive family. But the — during the revocation period, the birth parents would have to prove fraud or duress to be able to remove the child from the adoptive family’s home.
KING: How many adoptees in the United States every year?
ATWOOD: Oh, infant adoptions is about 20,000 to 25,000. And adoption is a wonderful thing. It’s a joyous event to build your family that way, and we want to certainly not send the impression that this is a common thing, because it’s very rare. KING: What do you think of our solution in the sense that the Scotts have custody and the biological parents’ visitation?
ATWOOD: I don’t think that it’s really my place to make that call. I think it’s really — the problem here is that the courts should have made that call three years ago. Once the biological father sought custody of the child, he — the court should have decided the permanent placement within a few months from that date. There’s no reason for it to take this long.
KING: Thank you, Thomas. Gene, Dawn, do you think you’re going to get him back?
D. SCOTT: We sure hope so. We’re not giving up the fight. We’ve got those appeals that have to be addressed. He’s only been gone for a couple of weeks.
KING: You can’t talk to him, though?
D. SCOTT: No.
G. SCOTT: Not as of earlier this week.
D. SCOTT: No, we’re not allowed to talk to him at all.
KING: Who wouldn’t — who’s not allowing you?
G. SCOTT: The biological mother.
KING: Have you called?
D. SCOTT: No, e-mail.
G. SCOTT: Well, we e-mailed her, and asked her if we could talk, and talk to them, and she said she was advised by a specialist not to. Who that specialist is, we don’t know.
D. SCOTT: Yeah, we got no response to who that was.
KING: Rough times.
D. SCOTT: Very rough times, but, you know, we think that there’s a good possibility he could come back.
G. SCOTT: I believe the problem adoption ratio is more like 1 percent to 2 percent, so if there’s 10,000 adoptions in this country in a year, 1 percent, that’s 100 kids. That’s three classrooms of kids that could be messed up, and that’s way too many.
KING: Thank you all. Stay tuned now for a special presentation, “CNN PRESENTS: Under Fire,” with Anderson Cooper, live in Iraq. See you tomorrow. Good night.
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