By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The state Capitol is a quiet place on a Thursday morning. Oil paintings of former governors stare down from the walls as if they're pondering why the polished marble floor remains untarnished by footprints. The place has the feel of a museum after hours.
Yet up in the Supreme Court chamber there's quite the clamor: a fierce argument over the visitation rights of "Papa Carlos." The case, the first of its kind in Minnesota and a potential precedent-setter for open adoption law statewide, plays out before a small crowd of interested observers.
Two lawyers, Mark Olson and Michele McDonald, take turns presenting their cases. The black-robed justices pepper them with questions, often interrupting their sentences. The judges are trying to determine if Papa Carlos deserves visitation rights even after threatening the baby's adoptive parents.
The saga began back in November 2003, when the "Doe" family decided to adopt. New Life Family Services, a health services center, placed the two-day-old baby of Papa Carlos and his girlfriend with "John" and "Jackie." The Does took the baby girl home from the hospital and assumed full care of the child.
Their adoption of "A.D." was officially finalized in April 2005, when a district court terminated the parental rights of Papa Carlos and the mother. Prior to the termination, John and Jackie entered into a contract with the biological parents; it was the standard agreement that specified the amount of contact Papa Carlos and his girlfriend would have. The adoptive parents allowed Papa Carlos to see A.D. every third weekend and phone calls at reasonable times and intervals, all with the promise that Carlos's parentage of the child would remain unknown.
A year and a half later, the adoptive parents realized that allowing continued contact with "Papa Carlos" was a mistake. After a few brief visits when the parents brought A.D. to his house, Papa Carlos demanded more access to his daughter. John and Jackie say he started to act hostile toward them and the adoption itself.
Jennifer Patrick, the director of New Life, stated in court documents that she witnessed "extreme hostility and volatility from [Papa Carlos] towards agency representatives," adding that his actions gave her "grave concerns about the physical and psychological safety and well-being of the child."
John and Jackie soon cut off Papa Carlos's visits. This made him angry. He began calling the Does, leaving weird messages on their machine. In one he said, "That's my daughter. I make that baby with my body. It's my creation, it's my daughter.... You are nothing. You are nothing to stop the visitation."
Papa Carlos also threatened to come to their house on his own to get A.D. He said he would steal the child away to Panama, his home country. At one point he even made a veiled threat and told them that they had better bring a gun to their next visitation.
"He keeps saying, 'This is my daughter, this is my daughter,'" says McDonald, the lawyer representing the Doe family. "But once the adoption happens the adoptive parents have full autonomy of the child. It ensures the safety and security of the adoption."
Papa Carlos swears the allegations against him are inflated and embellished. The Panama remark was a misunderstanding, he says. It was only his intention to take baby Doe on a trip to visit his family, which was pre-approved in the contact agreement. And as for coming over to their house to get A.D., he was merely offering to pick her up if the parents were unable to drive.
To Papa Carlos, the husband and wife came across just as threatening. After one of the initial visits, Papa Carlos stood near John's car talking to him about A.D. When the conversation got heated, John sped off, running over Papa Carlos's foot with the car. Papa Carlos says his cousin, former Twins pitching star Juan Berenguer, witnessed the entire altercation. Berenguer signed a statement testifying to the incident.
According to Papa Carlos, the Doe couple was trying to ban him from his own daughter. So he took them to court, spending $46,000 on attorneys' fees that quickly vanished. By the end of the five-month case, he showed up to court accompanied only by an interpreter. And after the district court ruled that his contact with A.D. could, in fact, be terminated, he appealed the decision.
When Berenguer heard that his cousin was representing himself without an attorney, he intervened and placed him in contact with attorney Mark Olson. But it was already too late in the game—the appeals court upheld the decision, voting 2-1.
"He wasn't given an opportunity," says Olson.
Now it's up to the state Supreme Court to decide the matter. The judges are expected to determine Baby Doe's fate within 30 to 90 days. The ruling turns on the interpretation of "exceptional circumstances." These two words are what gave John and Jackie Doe the right to ban Papa Carlos from seeing the child.
In the meantime, John and Jackie will return home. It's been a stressful time for their family, though A.D. remains oblivious to the situation. She has no idea her parents have spent more than $80,000 and three years on this case. Her parents love her. Her life is good. And her future hinges on the court's interpretation of two words.