Yesterday’s post prepares you for this one, about our Louisiana lawyer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I can’t stand the man. In this post, he will be referred to as “Lawyer” because even I am not stupid enough to publish a lawyer’s name in a derogatory blog post. If you plan on needing a lawyer in Louisiana, feel free to contact me. Otherwise, you don’t need to know his name, just what our experience was like. He is a “quad A” attorney; that is, he’s a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. So, just because your lawyer is quad A, doesn’t mean he or she is any good.
I think I’ll begin with the first time Lawyer dropped the ball. We asked Lawyer, Lil Snee (the facilitator), and our California Social Worker: What’s the difference between finalizing in California and finalizing in Louisiana? Lawyer told us the costs and laws in LA. Lil Snee said something along the lines of basically nothing. Our CA SW told us the costs and laws in CA. It seemed simpler and less expensive to finalize in LA. Lawyer never told us that we had to go back to LA to appear in court. You’d think Lawyer would remember a small detail like that. Many states these days are doing out-of-state adoption finalizations by telephone. You don’t have to go back to Florida or Kansas, for example. If we had known that we had to go back to LA, we would have chosen to finalize in CA.
When Laine met with the LA Social Worker (LA requires a certain number of hours of counseling for expectant parents planning to place), she said that the baby’s father’s name was Harris and he was from Townsville, LA. When we read the LA SW’s report, I asked Laywer, “How can the father be unknown if she knows his name and where he’s from?” He said something about not knowing the last name, and how that meant the father was unknown according to LA law. I asked, “Shouldn’t we publish in the newspaper or something? That’s what they do in Missouri.” Lawyer said, “It’s unnecessary.” I said, “But-” and he interrupted, tersely, “It’s unnecessary.”
Except that, as we now know, Cassie’s birthfather did appear. More on that in a moment.
In LA, Laine had 5 days from Cassie’s birth before she could sign the termination of parental rights (TPR). We had Cassie from her discharge from the hospital at 1-day old. The night before Laine was scheduled to sign, Lawyer called and asked us about birthmother expenses. Lil Snee had estimated the expenses as $X. LA law allows for $X * 2. When we saw Lil’s estimate, we believed it was just that – an estimate. Lawyer saw it as “You will be paying the expectant/birthmother this much money.” In fact, he tried to talk us into giving her the state maximum. Without droning on, I’m not against birthmother expenses, if they’re pregnancy related. However, there is a really fine line between birthmother expenses and buying a baby. We couldn’t really take any issue with Lil’s estimate; all of the expenses seemed reasonable, although the way they were presented by her was different than the way Lawyer presented them. So, fine, we’d give Laine $X. But Lawyer tried very hard to persuade us to give her twice that. Frankly, we didn’t have that. He even said, “What if she says she won’t sign unless you give her more money?” I said, “Then she doesn’t sign.” At no time during the process did Laine ask for any money. Lawyer just wouldn’t let up on giving her the maximum, because it was allowed. Ultimately, we stuck to Lil’s estimate. The signing occurred.
Months later, Laine asked if we knew when she might be getting the “other check” from Lawyer. Apparently, he had given her a check for half of what we agreed upon, and told her that he would give her another check within 45 days. He never gave her the rest. I called him, and his first reaction was, “I’ll have to check the accounting.” I had to call him about it again, and he said, “I kept it in escrow in case we needed to hire a curator [to track down Harris].” He never asked us if we wanted to keep that money from Laine, and we didn’t. But, because LA law only allows payments of birthmother expenses within 45 days after birth, he/we couldn’t give her the rest of the money.
After trying to guilt us into giving Laine more money, he never gave her all of the money we agreed to give her.
Back to Cassie’s birthfather. This is where having an agency would have been really helpful. Instead, Lawyer basically told me to handle the situation. To talk to Harris, gauge what he wanted, ask him to talk to the LA SW, and, ultimately, find out if he was going to consent to the adoption. In January, he wanted to hire a curator to find Harris’s last name and address. I replied, “I have those” and gave them to him. In April, he wanted to hire a curator to serve Harris with paperwork. I thought we only needed the curator to track him down in the first place, which we had. Oh no, Lawyer said, we needed to have him served by this curator person. Fine. Do it, we said.
In May, we wondered where we were in that process. I called Lawyer, and Lawyer hadn’t hired the curator yet.
Did I mention that every time we talked about the curator, the price of hiring him/her was different?
Lawyer finally hired the curator and Harris was served. At first, Harris said he would sign the TPR. Then, his family found out what was going on and was pressuring him to contest. Apparently, he decided he would simply allow the courts to terminate his rights. But when? Once again, every time I talked to Lawyer, the time frame for the court terminating rights was different. Harris’s rights were finally terminated at the end of June. (I do feel the need to mention that Lawyer was very nice through all of this. He took all my phone calls, though he rarely called me back if I had to leave a message. He was always polite. He was just … less than competent.)
At this point, I asked for an accounting of where all of our money had gone. Lawyer said he would give us one before finalization, because he had to give one to the court. As you may have guessed, we still don’t have a final accounting.
I almost forgot this part: After Harris’s rights were terminated, Lawyer told me not to contact Harris or to respond to him at all. Harris had asked me, in February, would he still get all the pictures and letters even if he signed the papers? I told him yes, of course. I said as much to Lawyer. He was adamant that I not contact Harris at all. I told him I wouldn’t. Then, I did anyway.
I started asking for Cassie’s original birth certificate around the time Harris’s rights were terminated. I finally got it around Christmas time.
Lawyer couldn’t file for finalization until Cassie had been in our custody for one year. That date was October 30, 2012. I called the first week of November to see if Lawyer had filed yet. He hadn’t, because he needed us to fill out some paperwork. Why didn’t he send it to us a month ago? He said, “I’m completely overwhelmed.”
I called him the next day (Friday) to see if he had sent the paperwork. He hadn’t. I told him to overnight it, because we did get FedEx on Saturday. He did.
His secretary called me the first week of December with our court date for the finalization. I was told I would get a notice in the mail.
A week before we were set to go to LA, I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know where court was or when. All I knew was our court date was January 15. I called his office. The secretary couldn’t tell me anything. She said she’d call back. I missed the call, and called back the next day. (I hate this 2-hour time difference.) This time, Lawyer answered. Secretary was out, and she was the one who knew where the file was. Lawyer couldn’t be in court for our finalization, because he had to appear in court regarding a contested adoption. So, another woman in his office was going to be there for us, unless, he said a bit hopefully, we wanted to postpone… I said, “We already have plane tickets.” His reply, “Oh, right.”
He recommended we stay in the little town where court was. I told him we were staying at the Residence Inn in Baton Rouge. Because, you know, we made reservations in advance – what a concept!
The woman from his office appeared with us in court, and was very nice. Lawyer never called to make sure everything went well, or to say congratulations, or anything. I doubt we will hear from him again, unless I decide it’s worth the effort to find out where our money went.
- Lawyer never told us that we’d have to go back to Louisiana to finalize.
- Lawyer didn’t feel it was worth publishing to find Cassie’s birthfather, even though we had his first name and town.
- Lawyer tried to guilt us into giving Laine more money.
- Lawyer never gave Laine all of the money we had agreed to give her.
- Lawyer was vague and inconsistent on the steps needed to terminate Harris’s rights.
- Lawyer didn’t hire the curator to terminate Harris’s rights when we asked him to.
- Lawyer told me to cut off all contact with Harris, even though he knew I had given my word that I wouldn’t do so.
- Lawyer never provided a final accounting of our expenses and payments to him.
- Lawyer took several months to send us a copy of Cassie’s original birth certificate, even though I knew that he had it before we left LA. (He showed it to me.)
- Lawyer didn’t send the paperwork needed for finalization in a timely manner.
- Lawyer didn’t send us any information about the finalization hearing.
- Lawyer couldn’t appear with us at the finalization hearing.