Judge Nan Waller says her hands are tied. On Oct. 30, Grandmother Carollynn Smith was hoping to get a bit of a reprieve in her four year battle for custody of her two youngest grandchildren. But her latest efforts turned out to be too little, too late – at least by government standards.
After explaining the history of the adoption case, covered extensively in The Skanner, and a bit of the legal process to a group of Smith's supporters, Judge Waller then told Smith her hands were tied. The Department of Human Services has the legal right to place children in adoptive homes, not the courts, said Waller, and Smith should have filed an appeal shortly after a DHS adoption committee ruled against her in January 2008.
But all of the information was mostly drowned out by protestations of Roger Weidner, a former state prosecutor and DHS critic, who interrupted Judge Waller several times to declare that he had formed a "citizen's grand jury" in response to the government's actions. At one point, Weidner tried to get everyone to leave the courtroom en masse before the hearing was over. Weidner claimed to have been arrested more than 20 times for disrupting courtrooms.
"We're not going to tolerate this," he shouted. "You are complicit in this!"
Even as Waller stated that she had no power to reverse DHS's decision to place Smith's grandchildren with the adoptive family, members of the group reacted with outrage.
"It is not the court's decision to make," Waller said.
"That's what Hitler said," yelled a woman in the crowd.
"This hearing is over," Waller said, sounding her gavel.
Immediately afterward, sheriff's deputies moved into the room and a volunteer KBOO reporter was nearly arrested for allegedly recording the proceedings after Waller instructed her to stop. Recordings are prohibited in courtrooms where the cases of juveniles are discussed. Waller defused the situation and allowed Gino Pieretti — a volunteer lawyer helping Smith — to explain the proceedings to everyone.
In three weeks, Judge Waller is expected to make the adoption final.
"I've always welcomed Ms. Smith into my courtroom and accorded her the respect she deserves as a grandmother," Waller said. But, having said that, Waller reiterated that because no appeal was made after DHS decided to place Kofi and C'Lynn in their current home, she could make no other decision.
Pieretti said it is possible that the lawyer assisting Smith could be open to malpractice, but the free legal advice given to Smith was good. If it was not for the CASA worker, Smith would already have custody of her grandchildren.
"Everything in that file indicated she was a good candidate for adoption," he said.