Baby placed for adoption to return to birth parents Montgomery County couple ends effort to try to keep her

November 24, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Tony Covino's baby daughter has finally come home, a year after he began a bitter three-way court battle to keep a Montgomery County couple from adopting her -- and the baby's mother from taking custody.

Covino, 38, had his first court-ordered visit to his Dundalk home last week with 1-year-old Sarah, after Baltimore County Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels ruled Wednesday that Covino and the baby's mother, Kathleen Crowe, will share custody.

For now, Trina and Harris Leonard, the couple who wanted to adopt the girl -- and raised her for the first six months of her life -- have dropped the appeal of their failed adoption case.

The couple had taken the baby home from the hospital shortly after her birth, despite Covino's refusal to agree to the adoption.

The couple gained temporary legal custody after their lawyers erroneously told a Montgomery County judge that Covino had consented to the adoption.

The case drew attention from national adoption experts this summer, who compared it to other cases in which adoptive couples waged long legal battles with birth fathers over children.

Last week the judge ordered a phased-in schedule of visitation for two months so the baby can get to know Covino, after which he and Crowe will share custody for half of each week.

"Tony is thrilled that he can finally be Daddy to his little baby girl. All he wants to do at this point is just move forward with his life," said his lawyer, Judith Shub-Condliffe.

Covino and Crowe have agreed to attend mediation sessions to iron out their differences and to be evaluated for substance abuse and possible drug treatment.

At the time of the baby's birth, the couple -- who were never married -- were no longer together. Crowe, 36, who arranged for the baby's adoption, accused Covino of physical abuse.

Covino, who says he now is a recovering alcoholic, accused his former girlfriend of drug abuse.

A charge filed by Crowe against Covino for assault is scheduled to go to trial next month.

After a Montgomery County judge turned down the adoption petition in May, the baby began living with Crowe, who sought limited supervised visitation for Covino because she said she feared for the baby's safety.

Covino was allowed to see Sarah on four occasions before last week, though always in the presence of the Leonards or his lawyers. But after last week's hearing, Covino and Crowe apparently were trying to put their differences behind them.

Covino, a truck driver, said his first visit "went great, she was a lovable baby and I can't wait to see her again."

Crowe, who manages an office for a construction company, said the first visit "went pretty well. I do have a good feeling about it. I think we can talk now. Before, there were a lot of barriers up, angry things being said."

While she previously had felt afraid of Covino, Crowe said she was comfortable with Covino's behavior last week: "I have a sense of closure. I think we can hopefully work well together."

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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