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Mayor’s Adoptive Children Lose Bid to Learn Names of Their Mothers

February 14, 1985

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Adoptive children of the late New York Mayor James Walker have no right to documents identifying their natural mothers, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.

In a 4-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals upheld lower court decisions that barred Mary Ann Walker Narita, 48, of Oakland, Calif., and James J. Walker II, 47, of Brooklyn, N.Y., from receiving copies of adoption decrees that were among their father’s property. The documents identify their natural mothers.

Judge Richard Simons, writing for the majority, said state law does not permit public access to adoption records.

Walker and his wife adopted the children in Illinois in 1936 and 1937. The court said the decision does not prevent them from attempting to unseal adoption records in that state.

New York law forbids access to adoption records, the court said, to protect the privacy of natural parents.

″It is irrelevant that the information was available to petitioners (the two adoptive children) at one time or that testator (Walker) could have transferred the decrees to them during his lifetime because neither course was actually pursued,″ Simons wrote.

Mrs. Narita, a legal secretary who took the court action and was joined in it by her adoptive brother, said she wasn’t sure what her next step will be. The papers were withheld after Walker died in 1946 by a law firm that was the executor of his estate.

Walker, who was mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932, had willed his personal papers to his adoptive children.

″I sympathize with the interests of the daughter to fill a hole in her life,″ said Jay Kranis, the attorney who represented the Manhattan firm of Warshaw, Burstein, Cohen, Schlesinger and Kuh, which withheld the papers..

He said it was the firm’s professional responsibility to withhold the information because it believed Walker did not intend to bequeath the adoption papers. The will did not specifically mention them, Kranis said.

The court concluded that even if Walker had specifically included the decrees in his will, it would be a violation of public policy for the court to order them turned over.

Thursday’s decision is the latest development in Mrs. Narita’s five-year search for the woman who gave birth to her 48 years ago.

″I want to find the family that looks like me,″ she said last month.

″I loved my adoptive parents very much, but I’m not much like them. They were very glamorous and unusual. I’m ordinary, studious and quiet.

″It’s the kind of thing where you look at Uncle Harry’s nose or Grandma’s eyes and certain traits that run in the family. I don’t have any of that continuity in my life.″

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