friendship play role in Holey custody battle?
for a local family that is fighting to adopt Jennifer Holeys two
children suspects a friendship may have played an inappropriate and
possibly illegal role in why custody of the children has been awarded
to an Oakland County couple.
Attorney Stuart R. Shafer said the friendship is between a partner in
the law firm representing the Oakland County couple and Nannette Bowler,
the director of the state Family Independence Agency. Bowler took the
apparently rare step of not defending in court the agencys recommendation
that the children be awarded to a Dewitt couple that had been the childrens
and Tammy Smith of Dewitt deliver petitions to state senators Tuesday
that they said bear the names of 2,100 foster parents protesting
an Oakland County court ruling that overturned their adoption of
Jennifer Holeys two daughters and awarded custody to Holeys
is an appointee of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The recommendation was made
during the Engler administration.
our information that one of the attorneys representing the (Oakland
County couple), James J. Williams, is personal friends with the director
of FIA, Nannette Bowler, said Shafer, a former assistant prosecutor
in Ingham County.
If its true, its probably criminal, Shafer said.
Youre the head of a state agency and based on a friendship
youre taking action or not.
A source close to Bowler said Bowler and Williams became friends in
1994, when Williams fought a legal battle for two children he would
eventually adopt himself. Bowler was the founding director of the Childrens
Law Center, a nonprofit legal services organization that has represented
children in guardianship, divorce custody, and neglect abuse cases in
Kent County (Grand Rapids). In December, Granholm selected her to run
Bowler and Williams were unavailable for comment.
In her ruling, the judge wrote that a key reason she was giving custody
of Holeys children to the Oakland County couple was that the Family
Independence Agency was not present to defend the recommendation that
the children be awarded to the Dewitt couple.
Nor were the foster parents on hand to defend their interests. Shafer
said they were never informed of the custody fight in Oakland County.
He said they had heard something may have been filed, but he said that
efforts to find out more from the Oakland County clerks office
Holey, 19, and her husband, Patrick, 20, both attempted suicide in April
2002 with the assistance of his mother after police said they wanted
to interview the couple for the rape of a 14-year-old girl. The husband
died but Holey survived. She was sentenced to prison for the sex offense.
The Dewitt couple, Chadd and Tammy Smith, began serving as foster parents
of Holeys daughter Liliandra, 21 months, in April 2002. Another
daughter, Pearl, 9 months, was born in August 2002 while Holey was serving
her prison sentence of four to 15 years. The Smiths, who became foster
parents of Pearl as well, sought to adopt both children.
An Oakland County couple, Jonathan and Donna Cromwell, who are distant
relatives of Holey, have also sought to adopt the children. Mrs. Cromwells
aunt is Jennifer Holeys grandmother. In May 2002, they filed to
adopt Holeys older daughter. They filed to adopt her sister shortly
after her birth in August.
In September, Ingham County Circuit Judge Paula Manderfield took away
Holeys parental rights and committed the children to the care
of the Michigan Childrens Institute. In March, Clinton Circuit
Judge Marvin Robertson approved the Smiths as adoptive parents of both
Robertson acted after William J. Johnson of the Michigan Childrens
Institute, a branch of the Family Independence Agency, recommended the
Smiths over the Cromwells. Johnson had been superintendent of the institute
in the Engler administration. From court records, it appears he was
relieved of the position shortly after Granholm was elected in November
but remained at the institute.
On Dec. 5, 2002, Johnson wrote a Consent to Adoption Decision
on Family Independence Agency letterhead. He said that the older sister
has already experienced parental neglect which has significantly
increased the risk of emotional and devolomental harm. She has thrived
while placed in her current foster home (the Smiths). The care
that she has received while placed in their home has resulted in her
making remarkable progress and overcoming alarming developmental delays.
The resulting emotional attachment which she has to the foster parents
is a very important consideration in making a decision about adoption.
added that he doesnt think the custody decision was the
Oakland County judges fault. She was given only one
side of the case, and she was given a letter that stated that
the other side is not going to defend this case. So it was pretty
obvious to her how to decide.
wrote that Holeys relatives were suitable for adoption
but do not provide a familiar environment for these children.
The strength of the biological and emotional connection of the
children to the relatives is not strong.
Johnson also said that while it would be less traumatic to remove
the younger children from her foster home, it would not be in
the best interests of either child to be separated from her sister.
The Oakland County judge, Elizabeth Pezzetti, took strong exception
to Johnsons arguments in a 54-page ruling in which she gave custody
to the Oakland County couple and assumed jurisdiction over the children.
In this Courts opinion, Mr. Johnson provided exaggerated
statements regarding the severity of the effect of the neglect which
Liliandra (the older child) suffered, the judge wrote in an April
15 decision. There was no indication that Liliandra suffered from
alarming developmental delays, she also wrote.
Regarding Johnsons contention that the Oakland County couple do
not provide a familial environment for these children, the judge
wrote that if in fact that were true, which this Court does not
believe that it is, it would only be because Liliandra and Pearl were
not given the opportunity because of resistance by the two private
agencies that were involved, the Lutheran Social Services of Michigan
and Lutheran Adoption Services, as well as the foster parents.
The judge said the Oakland County couple encountered nothing but
resistance from the agencies and the Smiths in their efforts,
not only to obtain custody of the girls, but to even establish a relationship
with them so they would become familiar with them.
also said that while the part about the girls emotional
connection to the Oakland County couple is not strong may
be somewhat accurate, the other reasons are irrelevant. The Court is
specifically referring to Mr. Johnsons comment about the strength
of the girls biological connection to the Oakland County
couple, which according to State law and FIA policy, should not
have been an issue.
As for separating the sisters, the judge pointed out that the Oakland
County couple opposed separating them and that they had been found suitable
to adopt both children.
In her conclusion, the judge said that the Court would mention
again the fact that no one appeared on behalf of the FIA or Mr. Johnson.
She also cited a letter from Musette A. Michael, director of legal affairs
for the agency, that states the agency does not oppose granting the
children to the Oakland County couple or intend to defend Johnsons
Keeping in mind that the MCI (Michigan Childrens Institute)
is a division of the FIA, this court gave the FIAs decision
considerable weight in making its decision.
FIA spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said that Bowler had ordered a review
of the case before deciding not to defend Johnsons recommendation.
Kevin W. Cronin, a Hopkins (Allegan County) attorney and the Smiths
co-counsel with Shafer in this case, said he appreciated Bowlers
great accomplishments with the Childrens Law Center, where he
himself had worked before its closing in 2001. However, in this case,
he believes Bowler acted wrongly.
Added Cronin: The FIA management manipulated this case so that
the Michigan Childrens Institute wouldnt have a lawyer and
wouldnt attend the Oakland County legal proceedings on this adoption,
to explain why they chose the Smiths over the Cromwells. Thats
sabotage. Its denying the Oakland County court the opportunity
to review all of the relevant evidence. Cronin called Bowlers
argument to leave the decision up to the court dishonest
Cronin asked the state Office of Childrens Ombudsman, Lynne Martinez,
to investigate. He received a letter May 16, reading: What occurred
in this case was an anomaly and is not representative of FIAs
policy or practice. [
] Typically, if a decision by the MCI is
appealed and a Section 45 [disputed adoption] hearing is convened, FIA
or its representative will maintain its support for the decision.
Martinez said she will not conduct a full investigation, because it
would not benefit these children. The ombudsman also clarified
that she had no authority over the courts decision.
In response to this, Cronin commented: Those are completely trashy,
illogical rationalizations for their not investigating it. Every child
in FIA custody is subject to court action. If theyre not going
to investigate matters argued about in court, what do we need their
$1.2 million budget for?
Cronin said he suspects that the Granholm administration wants to radically
change adoption policies. Theyre trying to save money by
doing placements with relatives, which dont require the expenditure
of state money towards an adoption-support subsidy, he said.
The lawyer suspects that the Cromwells were probably asked if they would
accept the children without taking monthly adoption support subsidy
from the state. For the state, that would involve a savings of $15 per
day, every day from now until the children reach the age of 18. The
Cromwells declined comment.
Shafer added that he doesnt think the adoption decision in favor
of the Cromwells was the Oakland County judges fault. She
was given only one side of the case, and she was given a letter that
stated that the other side is not going to defend this case. So it was
pretty obvious to her how to decide.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday a private initiative of foster parents expressed
their concern by delivering a petition letter containing 2,100 signatures
to 17 state senators.
The petition read: In addition to the senseless trauma inflicted
upon these children and their family, the impact of this decision on
foster and adoptive parents statewide is profound. [
] I strongly
encourage you to investigate this case as well as the politics and practices
of the Family Independence Agency that routinely violate both the state
law and human decency.
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