Judge's adoption express had one final run

By RICK CASEY
Copyright 2011, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Jan. 5, 2011, 12:45PM

This time Juvenile District Judge Pat Shelton and CPS may get away with it.

As regular readers know, Shelton was stopped by a higher court last week from paving the way for the adoption of a pair of twins by foster parents while a home study of relatives who wanted to adopt them was under way.

But last Wednesday - two days later and two days before he stepped down from the bench - Shelton granted a fast-track adoption of a baby to foster parents over the objections of lawyers for the mother's aunt and uncle, who also wanted to adopt.

On both occasions, the babies' mothers wanted their aunts and uncles to adopt. And in both cases the aunt and uncle appeared well-qualified.

But in both cases, CPS officials - despite an official policy of favoring placement of neglected or abused babies with relatives - joined with Shelton in shutting the relatives out. (On the first case, in which I called the 14-year-old mother of twins "Maria," CPS changed its tune at the last minute after intervention by state Sen. John Whitmire.)

In Maria's case, Shelton was ready to terminate the 14-year-old's parental rights to her twins when an appellate judge halted the proceedings.

In Wednesday's case, a mentally disabled mother and the father had agreed, without being represented by lawyers, to terminate their parental rights at a June 28 court hearing. They did so only after Child Protective Services told them that her aunt and uncle would be evaluated to determine if they qualified for adopting the baby.

But despite repeated efforts by the aunt and uncle, Tina and Brian Porter of Victoria, to get CPS to complete their home study, Shelton on Wednesday closed the courtroom to them and the public and awarded adoption of the 16-month-old girl to the foster parents.

The foster parents had applied for the adoption in mid-December, immediately after having the baby for the required six months. Shelton set the court date for two weeks later.

The Porters learned of the pending adoption on the court date's eve when the Victoria CPS worker conducting their home study called to say it would be canceled because of the adoption.

Before the courtroom was closed, the Porters' lawyers, Don Robinowitz and Dean Blumrosen, moved for Judge Shelton's recusal. He responded with the judicial farce of sending the motion to the associate judge who works under him.

With a CPS attorney vigorously arguing in favor of letting the adoption go forward, Associate JudgeBob Molder decided that since Shelton had earlier ruled that the Porters didn't have standing in the case, he wasn't going to overrule his boss.

'Facts' not checked

After the adoption was granted CPS literally added insult to injury. Spokeswoman Estella Olguin told me one of the problems CPS had with the Porters was that Mr. Porter "had a criminal history" of domestic violence.

That sounded pretty serious, so I asked Mrs. Porter about it.

Said her husband had been wrongly arrested when she was a resident manager at a large apartment complex and he tried to break up a domestic fight in one of the apartments.

When I called Olguin back and told her the charges had been dropped, she said, "The criminal history wasn't a conviction, but it shows an assault causing bodily injury."

Agency lost credibility

She expressed surprise when I said the case apparently didn't involve Porter or his family, but she admitted that CPS had not tried to get the facts behind the 2005 arrest.

Olguin raised a couple of other lesser issues. Mrs. Porter rebutted them both.

Frankly, after the CPS spokesman referred to a dismissed misdemeanor charge as "a criminal history" of an "assault involving a family member" without CPS having sought a response from the Porters, the agency had lost its credibility on the case.

The Porters are appealing the adoption and have some good arguments.

They may win, or they may not.

Either way, it is outrageous for Shelton to short-circuit the home study of the Porters, and for CPS to join him in doing so.