Judge to let adoption law backers participate in suit

The Marion County judge accepts a request to present arguments in defending the open-records statute approved by voters in November

Saturday, January 23 1999

By Spencer Heinz of The Oregonian staff

Chief petitioner Helen Hill and other backers of a voter-approved law that would let Oregon-born adult adoptees see their birth certificates will get their day in court to help the state defend that law.

A letter from Marion County Circuit Judge Albin W. Norblad on Friday said that he had accepted their request to be part of the case.

"They clearly have a strong interest in the outcome," Norblad wrote, "and ought to be allowed to bring their theories of constitutionality to the table."

The decision followed a hearing in which parties had argued for and against allowing the parties into the court. The action is significant because it enables Hill and the others to participate in questioning and to present their case.

"I think most voters would think that this should be the correct outcome," said Thomas E. McDermott, a Portland lawyer representing Hill and the others. "You shouldn't be frozen out."

Franklin Hunsaker, a Portland lawyer representing seven anonymous birth mothers opposing the law, could not be reached Friday.

Hill is a Nehalem art teacher and the chief petitioner for Measure 58, which voters approved 57 percent to 43 percent in November.

The law was supposed to have become effective Dec. 3. But on Dec. 1, four anonymous birth mothers sued the state, arguing that they were promised confidentiality when they relinquished their children for adoption years ago. The new law's supporters argue that no one had the authority to make such promises. Three additional birth mothers later joined the suit, and Norblad ordered the law to remain on hold.

At issue is the information on an adoptee's original birth certificate. It often contains the long-hidden names of the adoptee's birth parents. The suit argues that the law could shatter lives built on expectations of privacy. Supporters of the law say it enforces what they see as a civil right for an adult adoptee to have access to the same information as non-adoptees.

Norblad has asked both sides' lawyers to meet Thursday to discuss procedural questions. He is considering whether to impanel an advisory jury of as many as 12 citizens.

In addition to Hill, those allowed into the case are Susan Updike, 52, a Scappoose resident and birth mother who says she never sought or received any assurances that her identity would be kept from her child; Curtis Endicott, 50, a St. Helens resident and adoptee who says he wants to find his birth parents so his own children can learn whether his serious lung problems are hereditary; and the Oregon Adoptive Rights Association, whose members include adoptees and birth parents represented by OARA President Delores Teller, a reunited birth parent.

McDermott said he thinks Updike represents the flip side of the suing mothers' argument that birth mothers were promised confidentiality. Updike said she was 21 and unmarried when her child was born Oct. 2, 1967. Since then, she has not been successful in searching for her daughter, who would be 31. "I just want them to know there isn't anything to be ashamed of," Updike said Friday. "I gave my child up because I love her and I wanted her to have a better life."


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