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Anna Mae Case: A Test for the U.S. Judicial System
On May 12, 2004, Tennessee Judge Robert Childers terminated the parental rights of Chinese immigrants, Jack and Casey He, allowing a local mortgage banker and his wife, Jerry and Louise Baker, to adopt the Hes' five-year-old daughter, Anna Mae, away from them.
Jack and Casey He with newborn daughter
To date the Hes' lawyers have never received a signed copy of his ruling (they ultimately had to access the ruling via the website of the administrative offices of the court). Judge Childers promptly released an electronic copy of his ruling to the news media, sending shockwaves across the Internet and throughout the local community. His unexpected ruling also raised eyebrows in the Hes' home country of China, where various groups and officials awaited the outcome of the bitter four-year battle.
Bogus Abandonment Charges
In his lengthy ruling, Judge Childers found the Hes guilty of willful abandonment of their daughter, effectively dismissing the fact that this poor Chinese couple has been fighting all along, in three courts and before four judges for her return.
As pointed out by several legal experts surveyed by news media, Childers's ruling contains seriously flawed arguments and a handful of unsupported assumptions.
He Case History:
Case in point:
Childers cited as a basis for his ruling a Tennessee law governing the timeframe required to justify abandonment. Should the Hes have had no contact with their daughter for a four-month window, this would constitute, in the eyes of the law, abandonment.
Childers cited a specific window, January 29 to June 6 of 2001, in which the Hes had no direct contact with their daughter due to their perception that the Bakers would have them arrested if they approached the child. The fact that Mrs. He did, in fact, file a legal petition on April 9, 2001 - during the window in question - to compel the return of her child was used by Childers as evidence to justify terminating her parental rights.
Childers ruled that Mrs. He did not specify in her petition her request for visitation, so her petition to get her child back "evinces Mrs. He's willful abandonment of AMH."
To further justify his conclusion of willful abandonment, Childers elected to ignore critical refuting evidence, such as an October 3, 1999 entry in a secret journal kept by the Bakers.
In that journal, as well as in their later testimony, the Bakers stated that they wished to reduce the Hes' visits with their daughter for the express purpose of weaning the couple away from her. Childers also chose to consider the modified testimony by the Bakers that contradicted their earlier testimony and other evidence already introduced to the court. (The Bakers had originally confirmed that the police had ordered the Hes off the Baker property and not to return, laying the foundation for the Hes' four-month absence from Anna Mae's life and raising the question of abandonment; in their modified testimony, the Bakers claimed the police had told the Hes not to return that day only.)
By deliberate omission and selection of testimony, Childers concluded that the Bakers never discouraged or hindered the Hes' visits and that the Hes' failure to visit for four months therefore constituted willful abandonment, i.e. grounds for termination of parental rights.
Further, Childers issued a ruling that "there is parental misconduct or inability to parent by the Hes," saying that "the physical environment of the Hes' home is unhealthy and unsafe." This was based almost exclusively on testimony from Mr. Baker, who stated he found the Hes' apartment unsavory when he visited in 1999, even going so far as to cite the presence of fish bones from the Hes' cooking as evidence of their lack of cleanliness.
Interestingly enough, Childers said nothing at all about the successful parenting the Hes have been engaged in with their other two children, nor did he give weight to the Hes' noteworthy improvement in apartments over the last five years or a November 2003 visit from the guardian at litem that found their living conditions satisfactory.
Childers did not cite even a single piece of evidence to prove the Hes' parental misconducts! Instead, he simply decreed that the Hes were unfit parents, and therefore, their parental rights had to be terminated in the matter of their first-born daughter.
Another ruling that is highly questionable was his detailed explanation of the origin of two court orders issued by the ex trial judge, D.J. Alissandratos, i.e. "Guardianship order and No Contact Order." Larry Parrish, the lawyer for the Bakers, testified during the trial that he knew exactly how the two under-the-table orders came into being, i.e. they were issued during a private meeting between Mr. Parrish and the Court in the absence of any hearing or even the prior knowledge of the Hes or their lawyer.
Now, however, Childers-in his findings of laws and factspresents a new version of the origin of these two court orders by citing an unrelated conference call between various parties as the moment of disclosure, dismissing the private meeting; in essence, he excludes the "ex parte" deal between the Court and Mr. Parrish.
As one might expect, the Hes are devastated by the ruling and are deeply humiliated by its harsh and inaccurate words for assassination of their character. David Siegel and Richard Gordon, the pro bono lawyers for the defense, have vowed to appeal the ruling, seeking true justice from a higher court. But the appeal process is hampered by the impoverished state of the Hes, a situation further aggravated when, a few days after his ruling, Childers took an additional step of freezing a fundraising account, a non-profit foundation, to help defray the Hes' legal expenses.
Their supporters have recently felt forced to establish a new fundraising account (www.parentalrightsandjustice.com) while the money they had previously raised sits in a legal limbo, awaiting judgment from the court.
Since the Hes lost their legal immigration status several years ago, the Bakers and their lawyers have repeatedly requested that the INS deport the couple before the custody case was over - a quick victory without the necessity of a trial.
Now Judge Childers has ended the four-year custody battle, and the Hes are justifiably concerned that the INS may now deport them prior to the conclusion of their appeal. And since Childers has seemingly arbitrarily declared them unfit parents, they are worried that their two other children might also be taken away from their "unsafe and unhealthy living environment."
Despite all of this, the Hes vow that, while they may have lost their faith in the Tennessee courts, they still have confidence in U.S. judicial system in general, and they have promised to fight until the very end to regain their constitutionally protected parental rights of their first-born daughter.
The United States Supreme Court has always treated parental rights as constitutionally protected human rights that should be given utmost respect by the law. So although the Hes are Chinese citizens living in a sometimes-hostile foreign land, they should be given an equally fair chance to defend their parental rights in the U.S. justice system.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. is monitoring the case as it works its way through the system. And officials in China also await the outcome of what has been a decidedly uphill battle for the Hes thus far. In the end, the world is watching and waiting for real justice.
Related He Case Articles:
Complaint Against Judge Childers
Anna Mae Case: A shaky legal case keeps family apart
Lawyers offer aid to Hes: 3 schools want to submit briefs
Updated August 12, 2005