AMH ruling is FINAL

Anna Mae ruling likely will stick
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Successful appeal to Supreme Court remote
By Shirley Downing
January 25, 2007
A Tennessee Supreme Court order that returns a 7-year-old Chinese-American girl to her birth parents could end up being the final word in the case, legal experts said Wednesday.
Jerry and Louise Baker of Cordova could petition the U. S. Supreme Court to keep Anna Mae He, but "typically, the U. S. Supreme Court does not get involved in family court issues," said Bruce Boyer, director of the Loyola Child Law Center in Chicago.

Baker attorney Larry Parrish has said a decision whether to appeal Tuesday's unanimous ruling by the state high court will be made within 90 days. Parrish could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The ruling caps a bitter custody dispute between the Bakers -- he's a banker and she's a homemaker -- and restaurant worker Shaoqiang "Jack" He and his wife, homemaker Qin Luo "Casey" He of Cordova.

The Hes voluntarily gave infant daughter Anna Mae to the Bakers for temporary care in 1999 when the Hes faced financial and legal troubles.

The Bakers would not return Anna Mae and later filed to adopt, citing abandonment by the child's birth parents.

A harsh Shelby County Circuit Court ruling in 2004 stripped the Hes of parental rights, and portrayed them as schemers seeking to avoid deportation.

But the state Supreme Court said the Hes had not abandoned their daughter, and that they had voluntarily given custody to the Bakers without understanding the consequences. The justices said the Hes had overcome many obstacles, and were not a threat to Anna Mae's safety.

The state Supreme Court reinstated the Hes' parental rights, reversing two earlier court rulings, and remanded the case to Juvenile Court where a plan is to be prepared to reunite Anna Mae with her birth parents.

The case has generated international attention, prompted largely by the Hes' efforts to gain support for the return of their daughter. It was briefly featured on CNN Headline News' "Nancy Grace" show Wednesday night.

Nashville attorney and adoption specialist Bob Tuke also said the chances of a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court are remote.

When asked if the case is appealable, Tuke said, "only on the basis of a denial of constitutional rights of the child. Some courts in the United States have recognized a separate constitutional right of a child to a permanent and stable home."

"The U.S. Supreme Court never specifically recognized children's constitutional rights in connection with adoption but they have in connection with foster care. It would be a real reach for the court," said Tuke.

Several years ago, Tuke served on a committee that rewrote Tennessee's adoption laws. He said he has also served as an unpaid consultant to Parrish.

Boyer said the Bakers could petition the U.S. Supreme Court and seek "a stay to stop any movement for transfer of custody." But he regards the likelihood of success as "remote."

Other legal experts agreed.

"Appeal to who?" said local attorney and family law author Larry Rice.

Rice is author of "The Complete Guide to Divorce Practice," a book published by the American Bar Association that is in its third edition.

"It is really not a federal issue," Rice said. "Family law issues and custody issues are, with rare exception, state law matters. And they (the Bakers) have exhausted their state appeals. The Tennessee Supreme Court is as high as you can get within the state system."

However, Webb Brewer, general counsel for Memphis Area Legal Services, said "anything is appealable."

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