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A shaky legal case keeps family apart
This Editorial originally ran October 1, 2003 on GoMemphis.com. Reprinted here by request of the He family.
Shaoqiang 'Jack' He and his wife Qin 'Casey' Luo
If there is reason to prevent Shaoqiang 'Jack' He and his wife Qin 'Casey' Luo from returning to China with their 4-year-old daughter Anna Mae, it has not emerged publicly.
No evidence of abuse or neglect has been reported during the couple's long, exasperating battle to regain custody of their child. They have never been declared unfit parents.
A lapse in judgment might have led the couple in 1999 to entrust their child to someone else in what they thought was a temporary care- taking role. Beyond that, nothing has surfaced to explain why the family can't be reunited. And time for them seems to be running out. A deportation hearing for He, who has overstayed his student visa, is scheduled for December 17.
The case is a rarity. It is one of only two-dozen contested adoption lawsuits filed in Shelby County courts in the past three years. But it has again brought unflattering international attention to Memphis over the fate of children who have been separated from their parents.
He Case History:
In the early 1950s, the Tennessee Children's Home Society and its director, Georgia Tann, were exposed as the agents of a baby-selling scheme. A state investigator found that Tann had used undue pressure to persuade mothers to offer their babies to the organization for adoption.
The Hes allege no such pressure. They acknowledge relinquishing custody of their daughter to help them work through some difficult financial and legal circumstances. But they say they always expected her to be returned when they were better prepared to care for her.
Their troubles began in 1998 when He, a University of Memphis graduate assistant at the time, was accused of trying to sexually assault a U of M student in a classroom. Mr. He lost his job over the incident, but fought the charges, refusing a plea bargain and maintaining his innocence. Eventually, a jury acquitted him.
For reasons that have not been explained, the couple who agreed to help care for the Hes' child, Jerry and Louise Baker of Bartlett, have battled the Hes for custody with the help of attorney Larry Parrish, a former federal prosecutor and longtime anti-pornography crusader. The baby, who was born prematurely on January 28, 1999, was placed in a foster care program administered by Mid-South Christian Services. The Hes say they assumed the arrangements would last only a few months.
Those months stretched into years while Mr. He fought the assault charge and his wife healed from the difficult birth. The Hes have had two other children since they lost custody of Anna Mae, but a series of decisions in Juvenile and Chancery Courts have kept them separated from their oldest child.
The Bakers, who obtained custody with the Hes' assent so she could be covered by a family health insurance plan, eventually filed to adopt her, alleging abandonment. It is difficult for the public to assess the merits of the Bartlett couple's case, since the Bakers have declined requests for interviews and much of the case record remains unavailable because of state law that requires adoption records to be sealed.
The case has attracted the attention of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, which has monitored hearings in Chancery Court, and members of the Chinese community in Memphis who have encouraged the couple not to give up the fight. The Hes say they want to return to China, put the episode behind them and raise their children in their native culture.
This week, a bench trial before Chancery D.J. Alissandratos that could have settled the issue was postponed indefinitely when one of the attorneys said she was not ready to proceed because of an illness in her family. That left unresolved a petition by the Hes to visit their daughter until the matter is resolved. Meanwhile, the deportation is pending.
No evidence has been presented publicly to support the notion that it would be in Anna Mae's best interest for her parents to leave America without her. As long as that situation persists, the Hes should be allowed to stay in this country and pursue efforts to reunite their family. Public faith in the local court system can be preserved only as long as it is clear that justice is being served.
Note: Since this editorial ran the deportation hearing scheduled on December 17, 2003 has been administratively closed pending the outcome of the adoption case.
Posted December 28, 2003