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Date: 08 May 2005
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
From my own experience, Judge Mulligan is all for fathers regardless of how fit or unfit they may be. Came across this article the other day.... Unusual ruling reverses adoption settled 4 years ago Friday, May 06, 2005 By Barbara White Stack, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette An Orphans' Court judge this week reversed the 4-year-old adoption of a former foster child, an unusual ruling that could send the girl, now 7, to live with her father, a man with whom she has never resided. The ruling has no precedent in Allegheny County and few parallels elsewhere. The child has lived with her maternal grandparents all but the first few weeks of her life. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kathleen R. Mulligan ruled that the county Children, Youth and Families agency failed to give the father, Ronald Morgan, 31, of Ross, proper notice of termination hearings so that he could defend himself in court. Morgan said yesterday he wants his daughter, Madison, turned over to him quickly. "I hope to raise my daughter. I want to take full custody of her as soon as I can," he said. That will be delayed by another hearing, however. Mulligan also ordered CYF to ask a juvenile court judge to declare the child dependent. Until that hearing, the judge said, the child would remain with the grandparents. Children are designated as dependent, wards of the state on grounds of abuse or neglect. There is no allegation that the grandparents abused or neglected Madison, but if a judge agrees to dependency, then a juvenile court judge would decide where Madison would live. Paula Benucci, supervisor of the CYF attorneys who ask judges to terminate the legal rights of abusive and neglectful parents and who arrange adoptions of children orphaned by that procedure, said yesterday that none of the hundreds of cases her office completes annually has ever been overturned. In addition, reversal years afterward in any adoption is highly unusual because in the majority of cases, the period in which birth parents must appeal expires within 30 days. Madison knows her father because he used to visit her. But early last year, the grandparents, James and Mary Weiser of Avalon, told Morgan he no longer was welcome. The girl, in a psychological evaluation, said she was afraid of her father. Morgan said yesterday that he believes the grandparents "poisoned" her against him. Shortly after that, Morgan asked Mulligan to overturn the termination and adoption. That is what Mulligan did Wednesday, meaning Morgan is the child's father again and the Weisers no longer are adoptive parents. Attorney Joan Shoemaker, who represents the Weisers, said yesterday she will appeal and probably seek a delay in enforcement of Mulligan's order while the case is pending. She and the CYF attorneys had argued that Morgan failed to do what was necessary to legally establish himself as the child's father, although he was given notice of procedures necessary to do that in an earlier custody case in Erie that he lost. "Although he was alerted by the Erie case what he had to do to assert paternity, he did not do it," said CYF attorney Barbara Hanley. Mulligan said in her opinion that the child's mother, Dionna Weiser, who was not married to Morgan, concealed his identity from CYF. Mulligan also ruled that CYF failed to properly investigate who the child's father might be. As a result, Mulligan said, Morgan did not receive notice of the hearing at which his parental rights were to be terminated, preventing him from defending himself. Morgan has said that Dionna Weiser told him she was pregnant with his child and that he has visited the child fairly routinely and provided support payments to Dionna Weiser, and later to her parents, in cash. Dionna Weiser testified that she was a drug addict who supported her habit on occasion by selling sexual favors, and that is why Morgan made cash payments to her. The grandparents denied getting money from him. Still, he has cancelled checks showing that he made some payments for Madison, such as Girl Scout dues. Shoemaker and Hanley argued that if Morgan wanted his child, he should have taken responsibility for her when CYF declared her dependent when Madison was 13 months old. Referring to the grandparents, Shoemaker said, "They have taken care of this child all of her life. They did a good deed. They took care of her when he failed to come forward and take her." Morgan has told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he did not take custody of the child because his work schedule, which involved frequent travel, made that inconvenient. When Dionna Weiser went into labor, another man, Michael Sill, attended the birth. Weiser put his name on the birth certificate. He called CYF to say he was the father. When CYF declared Madison dependent and formally placed her with the grandparents, Sill visited her. The courts sought child support payments from him. So when Sill disappeared and Weiser failed to rehabilitate herself and regain custody of Madison, CYF named Sill as the father when it sought termination of parental rights. It also advertised for any "unknown fathers" of the child, as it always does, and it searched the court support payment records and the state registry of fathers for anyone else who claimed fatherhood of Madison. CYF argued that Morgan was the "unknown father" and was properly terminated because he did not come forward as Sill did, nor did he file a claim of paternity with a court or the state registry. CYF said Morgan's experience in the Erie custody case should have alerted him to the need for such filings when he was not married to the mother of the child and not named on the birth certificate. Mulligan said in her opinion, however, that CYF should have asked Dionna Weiser who all of the fathers of the child could be. The judge said she did not believe Dionna's contention that she would not have named Morgan if CYF had asked.
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