ROSWELL, Ga. – A Fulton County Sheriff’s deputy was recently at the door of the Roswell home of Ted and Lisa Williams, demanding he be allowed to serve personally a subpoena to their 3-year-old adoptive daughter Jada.
It was just the latest twist in a battle over the adoption of Jada and her twin brother Julian by their former foster parents, the Williamses. The subpoena for Jada and another for Lisa Williams was to appear in Juvenile Court Wednesday, Sept. 5, before Juvenile Court Chief Judge Belinda Edwards for an “inquiry” as to why Jada remained in custody of the Williams family. Apparently, subpoenas for Ted Williams and Julian had been issued but not served due to some clerical issue.
How did Jada take it all in?
“It terrified her, to have this man in a uniform and a gun hand her a document she didn’t understand. She had nightmares for a week,” said Ted Williams.
Jada and Lisa Williams did not have to appear in court because the subpoenas were quashed by Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob, who is hearing the appeal of the Williamses’ adoption of the twins.
As reported in the July 3 issue, the Williams family adopted Jada and Julian after serving as foster parents for the twins since they were taken away from their birth mother at the age of 5 weeks. (See the July 3, 2012 edition here).
As the months as foster parents turned into one year and then two years, understandably they came to love Jada and Julian. In turn, the Williamses are the only parents the twins have known.
The birth mother, Tina Wilson, a single mother, continually failed to satisfy the Department of Family and Children’s Services minimum requirements to regain custody of the twins. Finally at a Fulton Juvenile Court hearing, Wilson agreed to terminate her parental rights.
The Williamses had made application to adopt the twins, but late in the game, Carson’s stepbrother filed for custody also. At the hearing, the Juvenile Court judge ruled that the Williamses should have custody after hearing the children’s attorney’s recommendation to leave Jada and Julian with the Williamses and interviewing both families. Their joy would be only temporary.
Ted and Lisa Williams were granted the adoption in Fulton Superior Court, but here is where things started to spin out of control for the Williams family.
Juvenile Court Chief Judge Edwards intervened, had the termination of parental rights case reopened in her court and reversed her own Juvenile Court judge to award the twins’ uncle and aunt custody.
Attorney Jim Outman, who represents the Williams family in Superior Court, said this was highly unusual because the aunt and uncle are not Fulton County residents.
“They are also represented in Juvenile Court by lawyers appointed by the Juvenile Court, even though they are not Fulton residents and are not indigent. They didn’t have any reason they couldn’t hire their own lawyers,” Outman said.
Ted Williams is particularly bitter about these lawyers who are intervening on behalf of these Henry County residents.
“These subpoenas have caused real emotional trauma for the children. Their attorneys don’t care anything about the well-being of Jada and Julian,” he said.
Outman brings up another odd point in the case.
“The interesting thing to me is, why is Fulton County paying all this money out to fly in the face of a Superior Court judge who has issued an order that it was in the best interests of the children to remain in the only home they have known,” he said.
Juvenile Court Administrative Officer Omotayo Alli, speaking for the court, said she could not comment on the case “because the case is still under appeal.”
This is not the first time Judge Shoob has had to nullify subpoenas for the Williams family to appear in Juvenile Court. Twice before, once in October 2011 and again as late as Aug. 9, 2012, Shoob quashed subpoenas targeting the Williams family.
Now Judge Edwards appeared bent on enforcing her custody order this week, even if it means what some have termed a “judicial kidnapping.”
Outman – one of two lawyers the Williamses have had to hire because they must fight for the children in two courts – said as much.
“It is very clear that if the children entered the [Juvenile Court], they would have been taken into custody,” Outman said. “It is just as clear – at least to me – that the children’s best interests are served to remain with the Williamses while the adoption challenge is decided.
“If the adoption is ruled to be valid, it would trump any temporary custody order [from the Juvenile Court.] The Adoption Court has taken the view that the children have been with the Williams family since they were 6 weeks old and are the only family they know,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is remove them prematurely.”
If the adoption fails, then the children are moved. But if the adoption is granted, then the twins have to be moved again to be returned to the Williamses, Outman said.
“One of the things we clearly know in dealing with children is least movement is best. So if you don’t have to move the children from the family of origin, you don’t. A premature move now before all the dust is settled could not be in these two children’s best interests,” he said.
The case is now under appeal in Superior Court, which is the “exclusive court to hear any case pertaining to adoption, and thus has exclusive jurisdiction,” Outman said.
Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over the deprivation of the parent’s rights after a child or children have been taken. However, the court-appointed attorney for the children has said all along that it is in the best interests of the children that they remain with the Williamses.
“The question I have is what the continuing jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court is? It appears to be the execution of the order to remand custody of the children to this other couple. But that order itself is under appeal,” Outman said.
The Williams family continues to pay two attorneys, one to represent them in Superior Court and one in Juvenile Court, in fees that are now in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Ted Williams said his family feels they are being harassed by the Juvenile Court actions that continue to file subpoenas in attempts to pre-empt the Superior Court’s decision to allow the children to stay with them.