Tennessee: Judge rules Russian adoption case will be open to the public

Tennessee: Judge rules Russian adoption case will be open to the public

November 21st, 2011 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

Sandra Smith, left, an attorney for a Tennessee woman who abruptly sent her adopted son back to his Russian homeland in April 2010, speaks to Holly Spann, a Tennessee representative for the American Adoption Congress, following a court hearing Monday Nov. 21 in Shelbyville, Tenn., on a lawsuit related to the adoption dispute. (AP Photo/Bill Poovey)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

BILL POOVEY, Associated Press

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. - A 9-year-old Russian boy abruptly returned to his home country by a Tennessee woman who adopted him will get his day in court with the public and media watching when a lawsuit seeking child support goes to trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Torry Hansen was living in Shelbyville in April 2010 when she sent the then-7-year-old adopted son, called Justin, back alone on a plane to Moscow with a note saying she didn't want to be his mother anymore because he had psychological problems.

The World Association for Children and Parents is suing Hansen, seeking child support.

The former adoptive mother's attorney in the international adoption dispute had asked to exclude the media from court and to keep all records related to the adoption and juvenile court actions sealed but a group of eight media successfully opposed the motion at a Monday hearing.

Circuit Judge Lee Russell on Monday ruled in favor of the media request presented by attorney Robb Harvey but said some records about the boy's family and adoption history would remain sealed. The judge said privacy laws related to such disputes are intended to protect the child involved and do not govern records related to contract disputes between adults. After attorneys agree and he reviews those records they will be released, likely in several weeks, the judge said.

Harvey and attorneys in the suit agreed to work together on deciding which records will be released.

Russell approved a motion by Larry Crain, an attorney for the adoption agency, World Association for Children and Parents, to also add the boy as a plaintiff in the suit. Crain said the boy is represented by the director of the orphanage in Russia where he is living. Crain said the amount of child support sought would be based on the former adoptive mother's income.

"He (Justin) is at the core of the case," Crain said of his motion to add the child. "Our best information is he's being provided for and cared for at this point."

The former adoptive mother's attorney, Sandra Smith, said she was pleased with the court's decision to keep some adoption records private.

"We are fighting over procedural issues mainly," Smith said. She declined to say where her client is now living.

Frank Gibson, public policy director of the Tennessee Press Association and founding director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, attended the hearing and said in a statement afterward that he appreciated the judge's recognition of the right of the public and press to witness what he called "historic proceedings."

"There is much public interest in this case and its outcome here and around the world, but the importance to Tennesseans is Judge Russell chose to protect the public's trust in our in our judicial system," he said.

Hansen's actions in April 2010 sending the boy with a note saying she didn't want to be his mother anymore caused an international uproar. Russia threatened to suspend adoptions to the United States but did not. The two countries earlier this year agreed to increase oversight of adopting families to curtail possible maltreatment.

Russell said a scheduled January trial would likely be delayed.

No criminal charges were filed against the former adoptive mother.