Minnesota's first adoption malpractice case devastates parents

They cut her umbilical cord. Now, she's cut off from them forever.

"Don't talk to me again,"Stacy Mooney found herself saying,"until she is 100 percent sure."

She was speaking to her boss at the Holiday gas station in Navarre. After trying desperately since 2002 to get pregnant, Stacy and her husband Ty had finally made the decision to adopt. Stacy was already feeling her motherly instincts welling up inside her. To even contemplate getting close and having it not work out was too much to bear.

It had taken Ty a long time to realize how much he wanted kids. He liked them, sure—he was crazy about his niece. But even after he and Stacy were married in Hawaii on September 27, 2001, Ty felt no rush to start reproducing. He was a young guy still, and his job at U.S. Airways gave him and his wife ample opportunity to travel the world.

David Kern
courtesy of Stacy Mooney

Then Ty saw friends his age coaching their kids in youth sports and thought, look what I'm missing. Maybe that world travel they'd dreamed of could include a child. The year following their wedding, Ty and Stacy started trying to have a baby.

But it wasn't happening. They had tests done, and it still wasn't happening. So the Mooneys began talking about adopting.

The day her boss finally told Stacy that yes, his pregnant friend was sure, 100 percent sure, was September 1, 2006. Nine days later, the boss's wife came to the Mooneys' Elk River home with a twentysomething woman she introduced as Crystal Orr. Too early in her pregnancy to even be showing a baby bump, Crystal brought along the second of her three children to the Mooneys' ranch-style house.

The Mooneys made their guests dinner and gave them a tour of the house, including the nursery set up with a crib, toys, and other baby necessities. It was important to Stacy that Crystal know the child she carried would have everything a baby could want.

It was enough to convince Crystal. "I want you to have this baby," Stacy remembers Crystal saying. "This is your child. I'm just carrying her for you."

 

DANIEL L. GILES TURNS 60 this October. He'll mark his 30th year practicing law in 2009.

The bearded, mustachioed Giles is a partner in the Marshall firm Stoneberg, Giles and Stroup. The firm mainly advertises for personal injury cases, but they also handle business law, agriculture, estate planning, and real estate transactions.

It was the last of these that found Stacy Mooney's parents, Debs and Al, doing business with senior partner Paul Stoneberg. The deals had ended without a hitch.

So when Stacy told her parents that she and Ty had found a baby to adopt, they suggested she work with the law firm they'd trusted for years. The day after the Mooneys met with Orr for the first time, Debs and Al went to Stoneberg's office to ask if the firm handled family law. Yes indeed, Stoneberg told them, and introduced them to Giles.

They struck an arrangement. Giles would dispense all necessary legal advice and handle all the paperwork.

In the meantime, the Mooneys and birth mother Orr were becoming close. On September 21, 2006, the two women attended Orr's first medical appointment together, something that soon became a monthly ritual. The Mooneys offered to pay for any medical bills that insurance wouldn't cover, but Orr never asked for a dime.

Orr had her own reasons for wanting the adoption to go smoothly. She was involved in a custody case involving her eldest child. She wanted to avoid anything that would reflect poorly on her with the court.

In October, Orr and the baby's birth father ended their relationship, with the man planning to leave the state. Orr wanted to be certain he signed an adoption consent form before that happened.

Don't worry, Stacy assured her, we're on top of it.

On November 24, Stacy called Giles. They needed to get this man's consent, she told him—and don't we need an adoption agency to do some official study of our home?

No, Giles assured her. You don't need a home study for this type of adoption.

That seemed odd to Stacy, but she took him at his word.

Of the types of domestic adoption available, the route the Mooneys chose is the most modern, but also potentially the trickiest. When an expectant mother and an adoptive couple connect on their own, then go to a lawyer for a binding agreement, legal hurdles exist that other forms of adoption bypass. Called "direct placement" adoptions, these agreements have only been recognized by Minnesota's law since the early 1990s.

Before that, says adoption law expert Gary Debele, state government and adoption agencies handled virtually all the arrangements. A couple could either adopt a ward of the state—usually a child whose parents' rights had been revoked—or go through an adoption agency. The process was overseen by professionals and cloaked in secrecy. Birth parents never knew who adoptive parents were and vice versa. Social workers made decisions about where children would be placed.

But there was a backlash. Agencies realized secrecy might not be best from a child-development perspective. Demographics were also changing. With social taboos about single parenthood diminishing, more birth mothers began keeping their babies.

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