Child Seeking to Sever Links with Parents Will Confront Mother in Court
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A 12-year-old boy who is suing to terminate his mother’s parental rights so he can be adopted by a foster family will confront her in court when the trial opens Thursday.
The unprecedented case is the result of a July ruling by Circuit Judge Thomas S. Kirk that the boy, Gregory Kingsley, has the same constitutional right to protect his fundamental interests in court as an adult.
That ruling could help open courtroom doors for children in other states who face the prospect of being returned to parents they claim are abusive and neglectful, children’s rights advocates said.
An overall decision in favor of the boy would be seen as a major expansion of the legal rights of minors.
When he takes the stand, Gregory is expected to repeat the claims made in his lawsuit: that his mother turned him over to an alcoholic father at age 4, that his father abused him and that he was later abandoned to a succession of foster homes. His parents have both denied abusing or abandoning him.
The boy has been living with a foster family for nearly a year.
In the past eight years, he has lived only seven months with his mother, Rachel Kingsley, a 30-year-old waitress. Earlier this week, she denied abandoning or abusing him.
″I asked for help and placed him with the state when I couldn’t provide for him,″ she said. ″I love him and he belongs with me and his brothers.″
The mother, and the boy’s father, Ralph Kingsley, have been separated for years. The father is not contesting Gregory’s lawsuit.
Mrs. Kingsley says she now has a stable home life with her two younger sons, Jeremiah, 10, and Zachary, 8, and her fiance, Steve Hack, in St. Louis. Gregory’s lawyers contend otherwise.
One of their arguments will be that just last month Hack, 34, beat Mrs. Kingsley in the presence of her two sons, broke her arm and bloodied her nose. She has been wearing a cast on her left forearm but told police and reporters she fell down the stairs. Hack has denied the allegations.
″She’s not a bad person,″ said her lawyer, Jane Carey. ″I feel that the media has done a hatchet job on my client.″
The Fifth District Court of Appeal on Tuesday denied a petition by the mother’s lawyers asking the court to dismiss Gregory’s lawsuit, remove Kirk from the case and hold separate trials for the issues of termination of parental rights and adoption.
Mrs. Kingsley also attempted a last-minute effort to settle the lawsuit without a trial.
She said she and her two other younger sons would move to Florida and ″submit to intensive family counseling″ with Gregory for one year. If after that time, there has been no improvement in the relationship with Gregory, she would then consent to terminate her parental rights.
Kirk is expected to rule on her offer Thursday.
Gregory has lived with his foster parents since October, when the lawyer who became his foster father, George Russ, spotted him at the Lake County Boys’ Ranch, a center for abused and neglected boys.
Russ and his wife, Lizabeth, have eight children of their own but decided to take Gregory as state-licensed foster parents.
Early this year, the Russes decided to adopt Gregory and said they had every indication the biological mother would not oppose it. But Mrs. Kingsley did, and Russ and the boy went to an attorney.