Texas: A tale of two mamas

March 15, 2011
From The Houston Chronicle:

Tina Porter went with hope to the 313th District Court one recent morning.

Patrick Shelton, the capricious judge who had denied her the opportunity to adopt her niece's baby, was gone.

The new judge, Glenn Devlin, seemed more sympathetic. Devlin had invited her attorney to prepare a brief making every possible argument for Porter.

It's a tough case. Shelton had rushed through an adoption of Porter's great niece over Porter's and her niece's objections, despite the niece's contention that she gave up her parental rights only after being assured by CPS workers that her aunt would be given a home study so she could be considered for the adoption.

Porter's lawyer, Don Robinowitz, prepared a lengthy brief. First he argued that Shelton had improperly denied Porter standing to intervene. The law gives automatic standing to the baby's aunt, but not to her great aunt. Robinowitz argued on several grounds that Shelton should have given her standing anyway.

But he also laid out a series of allegations suggesting that CPS had defrauded the mother from the beginning. He said that despite the fact that the mother is mentally disabled, she had been separated from her aunt at a court hearing, taken into a closed room and pressured to sign a paper giving up her parental rights without a lawyer.

Robinowitz argued that CPS plotted from the beginning to give the baby to another family and received the cooperation of Judge Shelton, who placed the baby with a foster family pre-cleared for adoption and ordered the mother and the Porters to have no contact with the baby.

Unaware of the other couple's intentions to adopt, Porter pressed CPS for months to do the home study that would make her eligible. Whether through incompetence or design, the study was begun but not completed. The foster parents filed for adoption immediately after reaching the six-month minimum custody requirement, and Shelton scheduled the adoption for two weeks later, on one of his last days on the bench.

Robinowitz developed other evidence, including the possibility of a relationship between a key CPS worker and the adoptive family. He subpoenaed witnesses whose testimony was crucial to making his case.

He also laid out how CPS allegedly repeatedly violated state laws requiring that relatives be given priority for adoptions.