Where Values Meet Reality: Judge Parrott, Emma Rose, And Tragedy

“Emma no longer reads well, no longer writes well, and is unable to perform simple math problems. She wets the bed at night. She misses Ms. Hadaway.”

Emma Rose is near her seventh birthday. As she approaches that birthday, she suffers from an inability to read or write well. She cannot solve basic math problems. She wets the bed. In fact, until about the age of six, she was not literate at all. As the clock keeps ticking she becomes less and less literate — a regression to an abnormal state for a girl of her age due to the reckless disregard by a judge of a basic legal concept.

I’ve blogged about this before. The Southern Voice, a gay oriented publication in Atlanta, has also written about it. I’ve been digging around, tracked down a court order in the case, and nearly came to tears. This case is a tragedy where good people are having to confront reality as balanced by their values.

Judge Lee Parrott, a good and decent man and a good judge before whom I’ve practiced law, unfortunately, has made a poor choice in balancing his values with the reality of a situation.  Instead of applying the law and asking the question “what is in the best interests of the child,” the actual issue the judge must determine,  Judge Parrott asked, “What is in the best interests of the child on the assumption that what might truly be best is abhorrent to me personally?”  The result is tragic.

Emma Rose grew up in the cab of a pickup truck. Her mother, a truck driver and lesbian, “was awarded sole legal and physical custody of [Emma] in a divorce proceeding in Murfreesboro, Illinois in January 2002.”1 Emma’s relationship with her natural father ended totally at that point. Schultz, along with her then girlfriend named “Star”, were raising Emma and Emma’s brother Matthew, along with Star’s two children. “The couple experienced a variety of relationship problems including drug abuse, financial issues, and discipline issues with Matthew.” Matthew, exhibiting dangerous stability issues, had been repeatedly killing pets and “being physically violent toward” his mother as well as being “physically and emotionally abusive to Emma.”

Emma’s mother, Deborah Schultz, finally decided she needed to give Emma away. She gave her to Elizabeth Hadaway, a resident of Wilkinson County, Georgia and a lesbian as well. A Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge granted custody. Over the next several months, Ms. Hadaway taught Emma to read so well that Emma was able to bypass kindergarten and go right into first grade with children her own age. As the Bibb County Superior Court documented

[Hadaway] . . . provided competent evidence that when she took custody of Emma, [Emma] could not read, write, or do simple math. In fact, Emma had never attended school, and Plaintiff spent all of the summer of 2006 tutoring Emma to ensure that she acquired all of the skills necessary to enter the First Grade with her peer group. [Hadaway] succeeded in her efforts, and Emma was primarily an A-/B+ student this past fall, despite not having been to K-4 or kindergarten.

Further, the Court heard evidence that Emma’s own mother had repeated referred to Emma as “retarded” or “stupid” and her brother referred to her as a “stupid bitch.”

Once Hadaway had custody of Emma, Child Services visited to check on the situation as part of the process of Hadaway adopting Emma. In the course of such proceedings, all income that will affect the raising of the child must be listed. Hadaway’s lesbian partner of seven years was included as part of the income that would affect Emma’s life.

That’s when Judge Parrott decided to destroy lives in the name of values.

In November, Hadaway went before Judge Lee Parrott to have her adoption finalized. By all accounts, she had made tremendous progress with Emma, who could now read, had developed writing skills, was more social, etc. The Department of Family and Child Services (“DFACS”) was on board and everything was ready to go. Then Judge Parrott, originally supportive, decided no. In effect, he ruled that Hadaway and her partner of seven years were trying to pull a fast one on the court and pretend to be married, despite a constitutional provision denying gay marriage. Expecting this, Hadaway had ended her relation with her partner, moved from her partner’s home, and rented an apartment.

It’s a fair statement to say that Parrott was outraged at the hearing. As the Southern Voice notes,

On Jan. 8, 2007, Parrott issued a ruling that denied Hadaway the right to adopt Emma Rose and ordered the young child be returned to her biological mother within 10 days. . . . Hadaway and Shultz met at a truck stop in Jeffersonville, Ga., on Jan. 12, 2007, but Shultz refused to take Emma Rose back to Florida with her, instead reiterating her wish for Hadaway to raise the young girl. 

Prior to Parrott’s Jan. 8 ruling, Hadaway left her longtime partner and moved to Bibb County, 70 miles south of Atlanta, which she considered more progressive and tolerant than Wilkinson County. After Shultz refused to regain custody of Emma Rose, Hadaway said she was encouraged by attorneys and DFCS workers to apply for an adoption in Bibb County Superior Court.

Upon discovering that Emma Rose remained in Hadaway’s custody, Parrott issued two more rulings: a Feb. 12 order to place Emma Rose in DFCS custody, and a March 23 ruling finding Hadaway and her attorney in criminal contempt for not following his order to transfer custody of the child. The two women were sentenced to 10 days in jail, or five days plus a $500 fine, but are currently appealing Parrott’s decision.

The Judge in Bibb County, Tilman E. Self, III, himself a strong evangelical Christian, a former Ralph Reed supporter, and a Citadel grad, granted Hadaway custody.2

Sadly, despite Judge Self’s ruling, the issue is still up in the air. Emma’s foster parents, raising five other chidlren with six additional children regularly in their household, refused to turn her over to Ms. Hadaway, despite a court ordering them to do so. Judge Parrott won’t enforce Judge Self’s decision and refuses to consider that Ms. Hadaway might be an appropriate custodian for Emma.

In the meantime, Emma Rose sits in foster care away from a potential mother who loves her. Her potential mother sits in jail. The Bibb County Superior Court noted

Emmas has regressed emotionally since being taken from [Hadaway’s] care and custody. It must be remembered that Emma already suffered from fears of abandonment when [her mother] transferred custody of her to [Hadaway] . . . . Now, Emma has psychologically regressed.

Emma no longer reads well, no longer writes well, and is unable to perform simple math problems. She wets the bed at night. She misses Ms. Hadaway. She suffers from sever abandonment issues. Judge Parrott will not yield.

At some point you have to realize that sometimes what is in the best interests of the child might might go deeper than superficial statements of values. When values meet reality, we must be willing to think clearly and deeply about the impact we might have on others — especially six year girls who’ve been abandoned by their natural mother and natural father. In this case, we’re forced to weigh competing values and interests and we’re forced to choos between the values of how we’d prefer this child raised and the value inherit in placing this child with the only loving mother she’s ever known.. The choices are rarely easy, but sometimes the right choice is clear. I think Judge Parrott chose poorly.


 

  1. All quotes are from the “Order Granting Plaintiff’s Petition For Immediate Change of Custody,” Civil Action No. 07-CV-46353, by Hon. Tilman E. Self, III, dated March 30, 2007. It is available here.
  2. Judge Self is a good friend of mine. We practiced law together and I had the privilege of running his campaign for the Superior Court.

33 comments

  1. blogger says:

    If Ms. Hadaway is now a current resident of Bibb County, it seems Judge Self would in fact have jurisdiction over this matter.

  2. Donkey Kong says:

    I too tend to oppose homosexual adoption, but this is CLEARLY a case where it should be permitted.

  3. Doug Deal says:

    So, can a person file suit in one county, lose, move to another, file suit again, lose, and keep that up until they find a judge/jury who goes along with them?

    According to the documents, the women lost custody on January 8, and had until January 18 to return the child. She refiled on January 19, yet kept custody of the child.

    She kept custody until ordered to give it up on February 20. Then on February 22, the “expert” testifies that the child’s grades have suffered as a result and has ceased reading and doing math problems. This happened in the span of two days? 2 days is enough to grant a duplicate motion based on change of circumstance?

    I am not a child psychologist, and cannot know what is in the best interests of the child, but I know it is not a good idea to play fast and loose with rules to get around what you considered a bad outcome.

    This women has seemingly tried to manipulate the system, lodged personal attacts on the foster family, and made her own laws. The child is supposed to be better off under her?

  4. Demonbeck says:

    Doug,

    Have the government attempt to take your child from you and see how important the law suddenly becomes.

    Seriously, it’s real easy to think rationally when it’s not a personal issue.

    As I have said before, I have a serious moral issue with being pro-life and anti-adoption.

  5. Doug Deal says:

    Demon,

    That’s why neutral parties are involved in ajudication. My reaction was too the over the top paiting of Judge Parrott as a mustache twisting evildoer straight out of a 20’s era silent movie. That leads me to mistrust the facts, and when you read through the document Erick posted, the lady’s behavior can be interpretted as someone who made up her mind that she was going to get her way, no matter what.

    If Erick is right and this case was propperly filed (even though it was just days later), then I have less of a problem with it, but something about this women’s behavior does not ring true.

  6. Doug Deal says:

    Erick,

    So is there any limit? Can I move to all of Georgia’s counties every month and file a new case in each and everyone of them until I get my way?

  7. What if a judge denied custody because the adoptive parent was black and the child was white … or vice versa.

    Would any of us have a problem with that person jurisdiction shopping?

    Sadly, it seems that if she’d moved to Bibb at the beginning and just filed there in the first place that none of this would have happened at all. When one judge (in Bibb) follows the letter of the law and rules accordingly and another judge (Wilkinson) disregards the law and rules based on some sort of personal bias, I would say Georgia’s got bigger problems than just a jurisdiction shopper.

  8. Doug Deal says:

    chris,

    I think the courts have ruled against mixed race adoption here in Georgia. Particularly in white parents adopting black children.

    Still, the proper venue is then the appeals court, not another peer court or judge. I am never in favor of inventing your own legal process to serve one’s own ends. In the end it breaks down our legal system.

  9. griftdrift says:

    Sounds like she didn’t invent anything new but just used legal avenues already available. Sounds like a job for the legislature. You guys are in charge, right? 🙂

  10. StevePerkins says:

    I don’t think Erick “attacked” Judge Parrot personally or made him out to be a villain. All the commentary I’ve read from people who know the man personally seems to suggest that he’s a decent person and good judge, who just happens to have made a really bad call in this particular case.

  11. Erick says:

    Doug,
    To clarify:

    The matter in Wilkinson County was an adoption case. The matter in Bibb County was a custody case. She was within her legal right to proceed as she did.

  12. Doug Deal says:

    Ah, thanks Erick.

    Steve, I didn’t mean Erick. I meant the plantiff. I have read her quotes in various articles and in Judge Tripps order, it quotes her position that the child is suffering neglect due to the fact the family has 5 kids.

    There were 6 kids in my family, and I find there to be a lot less neglect in a large one than a small one, as the child is not reliant on a single individual to provide care, supervision and attention.

  13. Mad Dog says:

    Doug,

    So, in your analysis, 8 people in a family prevents neglect and children should not be dependent on mothers and fathers to raise them.

    So welfare mothers should have 6 or more children and kids can raise kids.

    And, which side are you on?

  14. Doug Deal says:

    You make no sense mad, so I won’t bother responding.

    Erick, read code section 19-9-23. It doesn’t seem to indicate that jurisdiction would follow the plantiff, it looks like it stays with the child.

  15. Demonbeck says:

    “In the end it breaks down our legal system.”

    Our legal system broke down a long long time ago.

  16. Erick says:

    Doug,
    From § 19-9-23, “any complaint seeking to obtain a change of legal custody of the child shall be brought as a separate action in the county of residence of the legal custodian of the child.”

    In this case, there was a legally valid document assigning custody of the abandoned child to Ms. Hadaway and a statement under oath that Ms. Hadaway had moved to Bibb County with the intent to live there as her residence. There was no evidence submitted for the court to consider to contradict either.

  17. Erick says:

    On June 19, 2006, Hadaway obtained custody of Emma from the Wilkinson County Court.

    On November 20, 2006, an adoption proceeding was held.

    On January 8, 2007, the adoption was denied and the child was ordered returned to the natural mother.

    On January 12, 2007, the natural mother refused to take back Emma and again assigned custody to Hadaway

    Between January 12 and 18, 2007, Hadaway moved to Bibb County.

    On January 19, 2007, Hadaway filed for custody in Bibb County.

    On February 20, 2007, the Wilkinson County Superior Court ordered DFACS to take the child.

    On February 22, 2007, the child was placed in a foster home.

    On March 30, 2007, the Bibb County Superior Court rendered its custody decision.

    Between January 8 and January 19, 2007, there were no pending court matters. The matter was closed on January 8, 2007, in Wilkinson County and the Bibb County Superior Court took up the matter on the 19th.

    Only after the proceedings began in Bibb County did the Wilkinson County Court intervene to assign custody specifically to a foster family in Wilkinson County.

  18. Doug Deal says:

    Erick, the point of that code section is to stop precisely what this woman was attempting to do. Just ask yourself how you would think about this if the general concensus was that she was a bad parent.

    Would people then be so willing accept these machinations? We cannot change the law based on our feelings toward the parties involved.

    She propbably should have gotten the adoption in the first place, but that is for the appeals court to decide, not Justice, I mean Judge Self.

  19. Erick says:

    Doug,

    I think you are missing the fundamental point that there were two difference cases with two different classes of law involved.

    One was a custody matter. One was an adoption.

    You and I both know she only moved to Bibb County to get away from Judge Parrott. But she did not do anything illegal.

    Yeah, she played the system, which seems to be your beef with this, but she was still playing by the rules.

    At the time she filed for custody in Bibb County, the county in which the legal custodian resided per § 19-9-23, there were no pending matters related to the custody of Emma Rose.

  20. Doug Deal says:

    Erick,

    That pretty much is my beef. I will accept your view of the situation. My only hope is that the child does get as normal of a life as someone can in her circumstance.

    I also hope that the mother does not continue to use her as a tool for publicity/sympathy and tells the Southern Voice to get lost. Adoptions are confidential for a reason.

  21. Decaturguy says:

    Great post Erick. I applaud you and Judge Self for putting aside your deeply held religious convictions in this case.

  22. Doug Deal says:

    Decatur,

    Don’t assume that people base their opinions on how law should be followed on their religion or personal beliefs.

    There are countless situations where people who care about the standard of the rule of law will opposing things that are to their own personal benefit or tastes because the think that it violates this principle. Look at the Terry Shiavo case, where a number of conservatives cringed at the Federal Government stepping in on a state matter, even though they had a strong desire for the outcome to be one that extended her life.

    When you ignore parts of law when it is to your benefit, you have no moral ground to oppose the same situation when it is to your detriment. When we start adjudicating cases by first deciding the outcome we wish to see, the law is meaningless. We are on a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to complete tyranny, where the people with power will be the ones who get these accommodations.

    Of course, for too many liberals, and single issue activists, it is only the case by case outcome that matters, not the long term institutional damage.

  23. Skeptical says:

    But Doug, this judge, Judge Parrott, ignored the rule of law and did what he wanted to because of his own personal convictions. Now this poor child is regressing at an alarming rate and who knows how long it will take to work through her abandonment issues.

    How is his subverting the law in favor of his own views the moral high ground here? Go ahead and try to explain this one. I’m dying to hear this explanation.

  24. bowersville says:

    That’s what the appellate courts are for, to overturn and reverse….not public forums.

  25. Doug Deal says:

    Skeptical,

    How do you know the child is regressing at an alarming rate? The so called doctor (PhD Socialworker) testified to that fact 2 days after she left the custody of the plantiff. More hyperbole. Perhaps the would be mother did not teach the child what she claims, or pehaps the child had a bad day. It is hardly reasonable to take that as fact.

    You guys have just found someone to hate, someone who is easy to attack to make yourselves feel good, someone who isn’t present to defend him or herself.

    Bowersville is right. And if the appellate court finds the original judge acting in an irresponsible way, THEN burn him at the stake. They will have something you don’t, the vested power to decide the law in this case.

    The fact that the mother has turned this into a press driven witch hunt goes to the assumed original judge’s point that she may be unfit. The child is the loser through all of this, and it is not just the courts that are inflciting the harm.

  26. Skeptical says:

    Oh, I completely agree that the child is the loser in all of this.

    But do you deny that the judge in the original case overrode the rule of law and ruled according to his personal views? Isn’t that what you people call legislating from the bench? Isn’t that a no-no with your side?

    Nothing that the would be adoptive mother says in the press will undercut the original ruling that was wrong.

    Gotta keep them kids away from the HO-MO-SEXUALS at all costs, right?

  27. Doug Deal says:

    I do not know the judge, have never met him, and do not even know what he looks like. I do not know if his rulings are grounded in law and do not vouch for them.

    However, if the state legislature gave him discretion to act in the way he did, then he is doing his job, whether any of us like it or not.

    If one doesn’t like it, convince the voters of Wilkinson county to bounce him. Also, file an appeal and have his judgement overturned by the appeals court of the state, the state supreme court, the federal distric court, federal circuit court, federal supreme court, or since Hillary would be in office about 7 years by this point, the United Nations.

    People on the left and right roll their eyes at the rule of law when it stands in their way, but it is the only thing that protects our freedoms. Once respect of that is finally killed off to the glee of the extremists, we are all in for it.

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