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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Dec. 3, 1999 – Marshall Islands Journal)---A Marshall Islands High Court judge sharply criticized the adoption agent, the adopting parents and the mother and father of a Marshallese baby that was put up for adoption and is now the subject of legal action in both RMI and Florida courts.

The case presented to the High Court is the consequence of "an incompetent, badly bungled effort at international adoption," said Judge H. Dee Johnson, Jr. in a 10-page ruling.

"In the process of what was, by all outward signs, a ‘black market’ transaction in a Marshallese child, the fundamental rights of several people were violated, the criminal laws of the RMI have been violated, the dictates of the Compact of Free Association have been cavalierly ignored, and, in all probability, the immigration laws of the United States have been violated."

As a result, "an innocent child who never had a choice in this matter is now at some considerable legal risk," he said.

Johnson was issuing a ruling on a petition by the father of baby Atina, Ranny Erakdrik, who is represented by local attorney Richard Hickson, who has asked the court to declare the adoption void because the adopting family and adoption agent did not get his written consent before they moved ahead with the adoption.

Johnson pointed out that an identical legal case brought by Erakdrik is now pending before a court in Florida. As a result, he ruled that the High Court case would be abated (put on hold) while the court case moves forward in Florida. But Johnson refused to relinquish authority for the matter by rejecting a motion from the adopting parents to dismiss the case entirely.

While saying that the High Court would take no immediate action, pending the outcome of the Florida legal action, Johnson had plenty to say on the subject of this adoption.

Explaining why he called this a "black market" adoption, Johnson said that there was no evidence that Carmen and Darlene Scoma (the adopting parents) paid money to mother Molly Juna to purchase baby Atina.

"However," he said, "spiriting a baby out its home country, transferring possession of the baby to the prospective adoptive parents in Hawai‘i, without any contact with or supervision by the state of Hawai‘i, and the unauthorized transportation of the baby to Florida without bothering with a proper guardianship or even an enforceable power of attorney deserves the ugly name ‘black market.’"

Johnson said that adoption procedures in the Marshall Islands have been developed through experience and knowledge of important cultural differences between Marshallese and Americans to avoid exactly the problem which has arisen in the current case.

"The adults in this matter decided to spirit Atina away from the RMI and deal with her as if she were some form of contraband, thereby short circuiting the very protections that were in place," he said.

Atina was carried to Hawai‘i by her mother in late 1997 when she was about four months old and taken for adoption.

Johnson leveled a harsh attack on the U.S.-based adoption agent involved in the case, a Ms. McGurk. "The ignorant, insensitive, meddling, incompetence of this adoption agent is a direct cause of the problems now existing in Florida, and the risk of harm to Atina," he said.

Johnson didn’t think much of the mother and father’s claims of being victimized by the adoption agent. Their claims, Johnson said, do "not pass, as lawyers often say, the ‘smell test.’"

He said the fact that this was the third child that Molly Juna had placed for adoption suggests that she did, in fact, know why she was being flown with her child to Hawai‘i, all expenses paid.

And the father, Johnson noted, did nothing about the "alleged violation of his fatherly rights for months after Atina was placed with the Scoma family." Either he was aware of the adoption and, by his inaction, showed no objection, or he had so completely lost contact with his family while living in the U.S. that he did not know his child had been adopted. "This is hardly a poor victim of an unscrupulous adoption agent."

Johnson concluded his decision by saying the RMI High Court "is not dismissing this action, and retains jurisdiction, even though action is abated, and will act within its powers if the parties should attempt to somehow avoid the protections to Atina of the Florida court."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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