Stinging rebuke for local courts
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January 25, 2007
If the Tennessee Supreme Court were inclined to say such things, in Anna Mae He's case it might be, "You people ought to be ashamed."
But in the end the high court emphasized reuniting Anna Mae with her parents "in a manner that minimizes trauma to the child."
And there were some encouraging signs, despite indications the decision might be appealed, that a healthy transfer of custody might be possible.
Foster parents Jerry and Louise Baker say they hope Shaoqiang 'Jack' He and Qin Luo 'Casey' He, Anna's natural parents, work with them to make the transfer easier on Anna, who's soon to be 8, and their daughter, Aimee. Jack He left no doubt he was ready to cooperate in a way that will help Anna Mae. "We don't hate them at all," he said of the Bakers. "We will teach Anna Mae to remember that she has two families to love. We will let her continue seeing them. We will do everything in our power to make her feel happy."
For Anna Mae's sake, the legal battle should not continue. An appeal could perpetuate the long estrangement from her natural parents, create more filings for the library of litigation that the case has already filled and continue the pattern of intimidation that separated the Chinese immigrant couple from their daughter in the first place.
An appeal would not be consistent with the foster parents' stated desire to do what's best for the child. The only remaining ground on which termination of parental rights might be found was what Chancery Court judged to be a "willful abandonment of (Anna Mae) by failing to visit her for four months preceding the filing of the termination petition," the court noted in its opinion this week. Other grounds for the case had been eliminated by the Appeals Court.
And there is "no evidence to support" the abandonment claim, the court said. The He couple was actively engaged in an effort to regain custody at Shelby County Juvenile Court at the time and appealing for help from the media.
As to one of the Bakers' arguments against restoring parental rights, that it would be difficult for the child: "(T)he only evidence of substantial harm," the court noted, "arises from the delay caused by the protracted litigation and the failure of the court system to protect the parent-child relationships throughout the proceedings."
The opinion, which can be read on the Supreme Court's Web site, www.tsc.state.tn.us, by clicking In Re Adoption of A.M.H., is a stinging critique of the performance of Shelby County courts. It vindicates the Hes and lends credibility to He family supporters in the Chinese community and elsewhere who protested local decisions as the product of cultural bias.
Chancery Court was given 12 days to return the case to Juvenile Court, which was directed to prepare and implement a plan to reunite the He family. The attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem, two court officials whose job was to represent the interests of the child during local proceedings, were "hereby ordered relieved of any further participation in proceedings concerning A.M.H."
None of this will be easy -- for Anna Mae, for the Baker family, for the Hes, not even for a public that became emotionally invested in this case after the story began to unfold five years ago.
A long, emotional journey is ahead for Anna Mae. The longer it's delayed, the harder it will be.