A Pyrrhic Victory for Embattled Father

Los Angeles, CA–We’ve previously discussed the injustice of the Mark Huddleston adoption case. In my co-authored column Anna Nicole Dispute Shows System’s Flaws (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10/07, Detroit News, 3/20/07) I wrote:

[I]n the highly-publicized Huddleston case in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mark Huddleston”s baby boy was adopted out when he was three days old, but Huddleston didn’t know the baby existed until two months after his birth.
A New Mexico court later found that the private adoption agency hadn’t properly notified Huddleston, and had needed to get Huddleston”s permission before giving his son away. Nonetheless, the stall tactic worked–by the time the case was finally legally adjudicated, the boy had been with his adoptive parents for over a year, and the judge ruled it was in the child”s best interests to remain with them.

Huddleston won a pyrrhic victory the other day. From “Who Is the Loser in Custody Battle?” (Albuquerque Journal, 11/21/08):

The little boy turns 5 on Valentine’s Day, his birth date something of an irony, given the bitterness and contempt that rage around him all in the name of love. On one side is Mark Huddleston of Albuquerque, the biological father. He says neither the boy’s natural mother who decided to give the child up for adoption, nor the adoption agency told him he was the father until it was too late to stop it. On the other are Bobby and Rosario Romero, who became Mommy and Daddy three days after the boy’s birth when the agency delivered the bundle of joy and legal papers to their Los Lunas home. Neither side has been willing to split the baby, so it has come down to the courts to render the wisdom of Solomon again and again in a heart-wrenching series of reversals and remands over the past 4 1/2 years that has charted the unwieldy course of this boy’s life and those who want to call him “Son.” A year ago this month, the state Supreme Court appeared to put an end to Huddleston’s quest for daddydom when it reversed an appellate court decision that reversed a state court decision keep up with me, I’m giving you the condensed version and gave the Romeros the go-ahead, finally, to complete the adoption. The court ruled that Huddleston had done too little, too late to establish himself as an “acknowledged father” and thus his consent to the adoption was unnecessary. “Mark knew for months about the pregnancy and took no steps to establish paternity until more than two months after his child’s birth,” Justice Richard Bosson wrote for the unanimous court. Now comes the latest decision this time by the civil court that appears to confirm Huddleston’s claim that he had not known “for months” about the boy because Gutierrez and the agency didn’t want him to. “It was spitefulness,” said attorney Louren Oliveros, who represented Huddleston in his successful lawsuit against Adoptions Plus. “They deliberately did not notify Mark until it was too late.” Why? Because, the lawsuit contends, Gutierrez insisted the father of her unplanned baby was someone else and the agency sanctimoniously moralized on Huddleston’s fitness as a father. “Mark Huddleston created this baby in the act of cheating on his wife,” Adoptions Plus agent Juliet Calibi sniped in court notes directed at Huddleston’s lawyer. “One can only wonder why Mark and Penny (Huddleston’s wife) would want this baby. Do you know, Ms. Oliveros, that there are people who want babies in order to abuse them?” Never mind that the agency is obliged to notify all putative fathers even if they’re ax murderers or dweebs. Never mind that Huddleston says he did not marry Penny until the six-month fling with the child’s mother had crashed and burned. Previous testimony had painted Huddleston as a jerk who wanted sex without strings in this case with a woman who worked at one of the hotels on his route as a chemicals account executive and who muddied the paternal waters only after it appeared he was going to lose the child he didn’t want in the first place. But Huddleston has always said he acted quickly to claim his son after receiving the first notice from the agency dated April 16, 2004, two months after the baby’s birth and well past the 10 days in which to sign up with the Department of Health’s putative father’s registry. “That notice was an afterthought, a cover-your-ass move,” Oliveros said. “They undoubtedly gambled that Mark would be one of the 85 percent of the men they deal with who don’t care they have a kid somewhere.” As part of Huddleston’s civil suit, two state Children, Youth and Families Department officials testified that Adoptions Plus had violated state regulations by not making diligent efforts to contact Huddleston. “The agency didn’t even comply with its own policies,” Oliveros said. In September, state District Judge Geraldine Rivera agreed, ordering Adoptions Plus to pay Huddleston $350,000. Calibi did not respond to my attempts to contact her. Adoptions Plus Executive Director Cathrine Troy declined to comment, saying only that her agency is “looking at closing, and it still may.” But it all may be too late for Huddleston. “The litigation regarding the adoption of the child was previously resolved and the trial court, the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the New Mexico Supreme Court all agreed that (Huddleston) knew or should have known about the pregnancy and failed to act timely in contesting the adoption,” the Romeros said in a statement provided by their attorney, Hal Atencio. “Further attempts are not consistent with the best interest of the child, who has been raised by the adoptive family and knows no other individuals as his mom and dad. I believe any further attempts to attack the adoption are more about (Huddleston’s) ego than what is best for the child.” Huddleston, the father of two other, grown children and a foster father, remains undeterred. “It’s frustrating, but this dad is not going to go away,” he said. “As much as they would like me to, it’s not going to happen. I’m prepared to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. As I’ve shown, I’m not one to give up. If I can find a legal avenue, I’m going to use it. And because there was some level of fraud in this case, that’s going to be another avenue.” Huddleston dismisses the notion that perhaps the better part of fatherly valor would be to simply walk away and leave the boy’s world intact. “My son would be living a lie, and what kind of parent would I be just walking away?” he asked. “My son will never be able to come back to me someday and say I gave up.” For now, Huddleston will have to make do with winning a battle but not the war, and not his son, who in the end could be the biggest casualty of this awful, endless siege.

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