Legal wrangling continues as baby turns 1 Custody fight, adoption without father's OK unresolved a year later

November 12, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

The baby girl called Sarah will celebrate her first birthday today amid as much legal chaos and uncertainty as the day she was born.

The Montgomery County couple who raised the baby for the first six months of her life -- and who named her and tried to adopt her -- have dropped their appeal of the failed adoption case.

The baby's parents continue a bitter battle over custody and visitation rights that has included accusations of drug and alcohol abuse on each side and the mother's initial attempt to relinquish the child for adoption.

The case, which drew attention from adoption experts last summer, illustrates the emotional implications of a process that can embroil a child in a legal tug of war.

The baby's troubles began at birth, when her father, Anthony Covino Sr. of Dundalk, refused to consent to an adoption arranged between his former girlfriend, Kathleen Crowe, and Trina and Harris Leonard.

Despite the father's protests, the couple took the baby home, gaining temporary legal custody after their lawyers erroneously told a Montgomery County judge that Covino had consented to the adoption.

Six months later, their adoption petition was denied in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Since then, Sarah's status -- and at times her whereabouts -- have been unclear.

The baby's mother, Crowe, says the girl lives with her. But Crowe says she so fears Covino -- a former boyfriend whom she accused of abusing her -- that she won't give out her address.

While saying she intends to raise her daughter, Crowe has not ruled out the possibility of having the Leonards adopt her later.

"I want what's the absolute best for Sarah," she said, adding that she began taking over the baby's care in a transitional phase with the Leonards in May and has been her full-time caregiver since July.

Covino, the baby's father, continues to fight for visitation and custody in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Today, on his daughter's birthday, Covino expects to see his daughter for two hours in his lawyer's Towson office -- a visit arranged by his lawyer and Crowe's lawyer.

It will be Covino's fourth brief meeting with his daughter since her birth, and he continues to express bitterness over missing the milestones of his daughter's first year.

"I have no rights. I think it's because I'm a man. It's the ultimate discrimination," he said.

Covino's lawyer, Judith Shub-Condliffe, said she does not know where the baby lives.

Although "we've been told the baby has been living full time with Ms. [Crowe] since mid-July," a recent court document that arrived last week from the Leonards' lawyer states that the Leonards "have had the primary role as caregivers for this child throughout the child's life."

"It leaves us not knowing," said Shub-Condliffe.

The Leonards, meantime, are also not completely out of the baby's life.

Though they declined to comment on the case, their lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, last week stated in court documents that the couple has "been forced financially to dismiss their appeal" of their adoption petition, which was rejected in May by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.

But Kemp wrote that the Leonards may try another legal avenue -- known as a petition for contested adoption -- to seek adoption of the baby over Covino's objections because of the lengthy time the baby spent in their care.

While the baby's future remains in limbo, her parents seem to agree on one thing -- she is a happy, lovable child who has brought them each happiness in a miserable situation.

Crowe says her daughter is "smart and funny, a wonderful, happy-go-lucky baby who loves children and animals."

Covino describes his daughter as "gorgeous," saying the few hours he's spent with her made him feel "like a new man, totally happy."

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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