Insider

Baby Tug-of-war. They're common folk from Converse, locked in a legal battle to get their grandchild back from a Houston judge

Krisna Acuña already had a little girl named Destiny when she became pregnant again last year. The father-to-be, an older boyfriend of the 19-year-old, immediately refused paternal responsibility. Acuña's parents, Jose and Bertha, were already raising Destiny in their home in Converse outside San Antonio, so Krisna decided the burden of a second child would be too great on them and her.

The teen contacted a San Antonio adoption agency to handle arrangements for delivering her baby and giving it away. The decision split the family, with Krisna's parents vehemently opposed to having a future grandchild pass out of their lives. Jose Acuña works as a technical support specialist for a communications company and says he can provide his grandchildren with a good home.

In an unusual twist, the Acuñas sued their own daughter and the agency, Adoption Services of America, in state court in San Antonio. They petitioned for the right to be first on the list to adopt Krisna's baby and, at minimum, to retain future visiting rights to the baby.

According to the Acuñas' attorney, Robert Medley, the agency and the grandparents agreed not to take any legally binding action until after she gave birth. Then a court hearing could be held to determine whether Krisna should be allowed to terminate her rights to her baby.

Things didn't quite work out that way. Krisna delivered a healthy girl July 22, but, Medley says, agency officials immediately broke the court agreement.

"Instead, the agency went to the mom and got her to sign the [termination] papers after the 48-hour waiting period, without Mr. and Mrs. Acuña knowing what they were doing," contends Medley. "Then they came into court and tried to throw the grandparents out on the basis they had no standing."

When a parent gives up a child through an affidavit of relinquishment to an agency, grandparents have no right to seek access to that child under the law. So the court initially ruled in favor of the adoption agency and its attorney, San Antonio state Representative Robert Puente.

The agency had already given the baby to 48-year-old Houston civil district Judge Tazewell Lamar McCorkle Jr. and his wife, lawyer Regina Giovannini. The couple named her Anna and have cared for her since. "We were first in line, and yet Judge McCorkle got the baby," laments Bertha Acuña. "We did all the paperwork. It puts him in an unfair advantage over us, because he's using his knowledge as a judge and his contacts. I picked a lawyer out of the phone book."

The Acuñas replaced that lawyer with Medley. He went back to court, arguing that Krisna could not legally sign away the child, because the adoption agency violated its promise to return to court before getting her signature. Judge Martha Tanner reinstated the Acuñas' suit and scheduled a trial to determine custody.

Neither Judge McCorkle, his wife nor his attorney, well known family law specialist Ellen A. Yarrell, responded to Insider inquiries for comments on the dispute. Likewise, a call to Puente's San Antonio law office was not returned.

Last Wednesday Tanner denied a request by the agency for a gag order to block the parties from discussing the case outside of court. She also denied the Acuñas' request for temporary visitation rights.

Arlene Fisher, adoption coordinator at Houston's Depelchin Children's Center, says the legal fight is very unusual. She cannot recall any similar cases involving her organization.

"Usually when the grandparents want to parent, the birth mother is willing to let them parent, so it is never an issue," says Fisher. "They're usually more than happy, so it sounds like there's also probably some friction between the girl and her parents."

The Acuñas' suit targets the adoption agency, which retains managing conservatorship of Anna. But the case has gotten a lot more personal than that, since the mother has had a change of heart. Initially, Krisna Acuña says, she was in denial of her pregnancy, "and after giving the baby up, I realized that was not the best way to handle a pregnancy."

Several weeks ago Krisna called McCorkle in Houston to ask him to return the child.

"I told him that I wanted the baby back, that I felt I had made a mistake giving her up," she recalls. "He asked me why, and I said I hadn't gone to any counseling other than with the agency itself. All he said was that he and his wife had been doing what I had asked in the beginning, raising the baby themselves and loving her."

According to Krisna, the conversation ended with McCorkle saying he would discuss the matter with his wife.

The grandparents made similar appeals to the McCorkle family shortly after the birth of the baby.

"The sad thing to me was he met us," says Bertha Acuña, who spoke to the McCorkle couple in a hospital hallway as they were taking possession of the baby. "He knew that we the grandparents wanted this baby, and I even told him flat out: This was not about him, this was about trying to keep our family together."

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