Supreme Court asked to hear challenge from Guatemalan mother

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to hear an appeal on behalf of a Guatemalan woman seeking to overturn the adoption of her biological child by a Carthage couple.

Attorneys for Encarnacion Romero filed the request on Monday. The action represents the court of last resort, after the Missouri Supreme Court late last year refused to hear the woman’s appeal. That action unsuccessfully challenged a Missouri Court of Appeals ruling that terminated her parental rights.

“We’ve asked, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll take it,” said Joplin lawyer Bill Fleischaker, one of several volunteer attorneys representing the biological mother.

“They hear very few of the cases filed,” he said.

According to information on the Supreme Court’s website, about 10,000 cases are filed annually, and fewer than 80 — less than 1 percent — are accepted for hearings by the court.

Joe Hensley, attorney for adoptive parents Seth and Melinda Moser, said he was notified Monday of the filing. The Mosers have been caring for the child — now 7 — since he was about a year old. Hensley said he has not yet met with the Mosers to discuss a response, noting that he, until Monday, was uncertain if an appeal would be filed.

“But nothing surprises me about this case anymore,” he said.

Fleischaker said the appeal would be based on due process issues, arguing that a “different standard” had been used in deciding to terminate the biological mother’s parental rights, that the mother lacked representation at the hearing when custody of the child was transferred, and that the ruling relied on the mother’s immigration status in determining if the adoption should be allowed.

Hensley said all those issues had been argued in earlier court hearings. The case has been before circuit courts, the Missouri Court of Appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court, each on two occasions.

The appellate court last October in a unanimous 81-page decision terminated Romero’s parental rights and upheld the adoption by the Mosers. The appeals court found that the natural mother had forfeited her rights because she had abandoned and neglected the child.

Romero was arrested in May 2007 in an immigration raid while she was working at a Barry County poultry processing plant. She left the child with her brother, who turned him over to a sister. She then left the baby with a Carthage couple who agreed to the adoption by the Mosers.

The mother’s parental rights were terminated based on arguments that the child had been abandoned because the mother made no attempt to provide for the boy during the two years when she was in jail, even though she had the means to do so. The court also found that the mother left the child in the hospital after giving birth, that she failed to keep doctor appointments or obtain baby formula or other help available for the child, and that she made no arrangements to ensure that the infant would be cared for in case she was arrested.