An appeals court sided with the Girard couple, setting the stage for Friday's hearing.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- And now the wait begins.
It might be four to six months before a Girard couple learns the outcome of the interstate adoption dispute they've been entangled in for years.
Rich and Cheryl Asente's case involving their 4-year-old adopted son, Justin, went before the Kentucky Supreme Court in Lexington on Friday morning.
Asente said afterward he and his wife couldn't get an idea of what the justices were thinking during the hearing, which lasted less than an hour.
"They asked a lot of questions," he said. "We couldn't get a feel one way or another."
Disputed adoption: Justin's biological parents, Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning of Kentucky, gave him up for adoption in February 1998, when the boy was 11 months old.
Justin was placed with the Asentes.
The unmarried Kentucky couple changed their minds the following month.
A Kenton County Circuit Court judge agreed that the papers were not signed knowingly and voluntarily.
The Asentes sued in Ohio, touching off the cross-border legal fight.
The Ohio Supreme Court eventually declared that Kentucky had jurisdiction.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals granted custody of Justin to the Girard couple in September 2000, ruling that Moore and Dorning realized what they were doing when they agreed to the adoption.
The biological parents appealed in December 2000 to Kentucky's high court, which decided to hear the case, and Friday's hearing was scheduled.
Issues addressed: One of the court's questions Friday dealt with the biological parents' initially signing the adoption consent documents, Asente said.
Another dealt with the Asentes' paying the legal fees for the biological parents when adoption proceedings began.
The Associated Press reported that the Kentucky couple's attorney said they thought they were agreeing only to let the child go temporarily to Ohio with the Asentes.
Moore and Dorning "did not give a voluntary and informed consent to the adoption of their child," Glenda Harrison told the justices.
The Asentes' attorney, Mitchell Charney, argued that there was nothing misleading about the papers.
"They're valid. They were voluntary. The birth parents were fully informed," he said.
The court didn't indicate when a ruling will be issued.
"We're being told to expect it to take four to six months," Asente said.
The Associated Press reported that Justice William Cooper said it bothered him that the form signed by Moore and Dorning did not contain a statement such as, "I hereby consent to the adoption of my child."
Chief Justice Joseph Lambert seemed to take a different view. "It may lack the express declaration," Lambert said, but added, "At some point persons have to be held accountable for the documents they sign."
The Kentucky couple has visitation with Justin, who turns 5 next week, and visits alternate between Kentucky and Ohio.
Older child: The Girard couple previously adopted Justin's older brother, Joey, 6. Moore and Dorning gave their older son up for adoption in 1995.
Charney said Moore also gave up for adoption a half sibling to the boys.
"Moore and Dorning are not novices in the adoption arena," Charney said.
The Asentes, meanwhile, have incurred more than $500,000 in legal fees from the long-running battle.
A defense fund is helping to support their case. Donations may be mailed to the Asente Legal Aid Fund, Box 53, Niles 44446.
Asente said the couple recently renewed the post office box rental, which had lapsed amid all the preparation for the court appearance.