Harford Circuit Judge Maurice W. Baldwin Jr. agreed Friday to delay transferring full custody of a 5-year-old girl to her father, who is on probation for sexually abusing his stepdaughter.
Angela Eaves, a Legal Aid lawyer representing the child, sought the stay. She argued that a psychologist who testified in a January hearing said custody should not be transferred at that time from the mother to the father, given the lack of a prior relationship between father and child. Custody was awarded to the Harford Department of Social Services at that hearing.
John C. Love, a Bel Air lawyer representing the father, confirmed that the transfer to the father had been delayed until 4 p.m. Tuesday. "At that time, I think there will be another hearing or meeting of counsel," said Love. He declined further comment.
On Thursday, Baldwin awarded the father full custody of the child, saying the child's mother "has a serious psychiatric problem." The judge did not explain that problem and declined, through his secretary and law clerk, to speak with a reporter seeking to clarify the remark.
Baldwin also denied motions Thursday by lawyers Robert P. Brophy of Bel Air and Harold F. Simms of Kentucky to grant jurisdiction of the case to Kentucky, where the mother was living when she went into hiding with the girl. The woman has sought to have the case transferred from Maryland.
Chris Gorman, the Kentucky attorney general, issued a statement Friday in response to Baldwin's change-of-custody order, saying that the case "provides us with unmistakable proof of the need to make the system more accountable to the needs of these young victims."
Richard T. Purvis, treatment supervisor for the sex offender treatment program at the Kentucky State Reformatory, also issued a statement about the case Friday, saying, "This is ludicrous at best and malpractice and judicial neglect at worst."
In his ruling Thursday, Baldwin said Dr. Michael Gombatz, an Anne Arundel County psychologist, had testified in January that the father's court-ordered therapy following the sex abuse conviction "has been completed and he has been rehabilitated."
Gombatz is the same doctor Eaves cited in her petition for a stay of the new custody order.
The father, whose first name is Dan, was convicted in 1987 by Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill of one count of child abuse for sexually molesting his stepdaughter, 11 at the time, court records show.
In 1988, Whitfill struck the guilty finding, placed the father on five years' probation and ordered him to attend therapy.
The mother had full custody when she took the 5-year-old into hiding last August after Whitfill ordered that the child be sent on an overnight visit, to be supervised by one of the father's friends. The mother, Mary, has asked the court to order all visits between child and father supervised by a social services agency social worker.
Mercedes Samborsky, a Bel Air lawyer handling Mary's pending appeal of Whitfill's overnight visitation order, said Mary had no psychological problem.
"Her marriage had broken up, her middle daughter had been sexually abused by her husband, she was facing financial disaster, she was out of a job and the judge had ordered an overnight visit with the father when Dr. Gombatz interviewed her," said Samborsky. "I would say she was experiencing a normal amount of anxiety."
About a dozen spectators at the hearing Thursday gasped as they heard Baldwin order the custody change.
"You can tell Baldwin, Whitfill, [Dan], and Gombatz it's not over. They're not getting away with it this time. We want people to know what they've done," said Michele Etlin, a spokeswoman for Alliance for the Rights of Children.
The group was formerly known as Friends of Elizabeth Morgan, named for the Washington, D.C., plastic surgeon jailed for hiding her daughter from her ex-husband because she believed he had sexually abused the child.
Members of the Alliance and incest survivors' groups staged a daylong protest outside the Harford County Courthouse. They filed a "friend of the court" brief urging Baldwin to order that the father be evaluated by an expert in sexual disorders at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore before granting the father custody. Baldwin refused the request.