Cases closed - kids get new families

In 8 proceedings, Circuit Court marks National Adoption Day

November 17, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

Dressed up in her pink jumper with matching hair clips, Madison squirmed in her mom's lap, slid off, danced around - hardly the decorum expected in a courtroom.

But when her moment in the limelight before the judge arrived, the 3-year-old was asleep. Reginald Gregory of Bowie stood with Madison draped on his shoulder and his wife by his side, as a judge told him he was officially Madison's dad.

"I adore Madison," Gregory, 37, said afterward.

He had married Madison's mother, Jenn, 30, in March. With the toddler's biological father out of the picture, Gregory wanted to make his status as Madison's dad legal.

FOR THE RECORD - A caption in Friday's Anne Arundel section incorrectly identified Kathy Gilde of Linthicum as Austin Gilde's adoptive mother and Bill Gilde as his father. Bill Gilde adopted Austin on Thursday, and Kathy Gilde is his birth mother.

Theirs was among eight short proceedings yesterday as Anne Arundel County Circuit Court marked National Adoption Day with cake, balloons - even a bagpipe performance by the court administrator clad in full Scottish regalia.

Robert Wallace piped "Happy Birthday" for Austin Gilde, of Linthicum, whose 11th birthday coincided with his adoption by his stepfather, Bill Gilde Jr., 50. Austin wanted to have the same name as the man he views as his father, said his mother, Kathy Gilde, 40.

His grandparents beamed, saying they've been waiting for this day since the Gildes wedded nearly two years ago.

"This is the one day when everyone gets to leave the courtroom happy," Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis said.

Annmarie played with keys and babbled through her ceremony in her new mother's arms. The 19-month-old was the second South Korean-born child for Mary Beth and Mark Weaver, both 39, of Severn. With Zachary, 3 1/2 , the family stood together before the judge.

The oldest adoptee in the group was 16-year-old Kelly Merkel of Arnold, adopted by her mother's husband just a few months after her mother's death - but not because of it.

"We always talked about this," said Mark Sewell, 44, recalling conversations with his late wife, Barbara, and Kelly. "She means the world to me."

While Kelly insisted that he's been her dad for nine years - so this really changes nothing - Sewell smiled, and the family's lawyer disagreed. David Cahn had adopted two of Kelly's half-sisters when they were adults.

"And they said it didn't matter. But two years later one of them called me and said, `You know, it does.' And she was in her 20s," the attorney said.

With yesterday's addition of 18-month-old Mariah, five of the six children of Shelly Frey, 34, of Laurel, were adopted through a Crofton agency. "I always wanted a big family," she said.

Her Elijah, 8, said he recognized the courthouse right away, having been there just about annually since he can remember, as the family grew.

National Adoption Day, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, was begun six years ago by the Alliance for Children's Rights to raise awareness of the need for adoptive homes. Among jurisdictions around the country celebrating it are several Maryland courts, including those in Baltimore City and County.

Howard County Circuit Court, finalized 15 Department of Human Services adoption cases last year, and has eight adoption hearings scheduled today.

Sitting judges of past and present describe the hearings as good and filled with joy and laughter.

"The proceedings are impressive and this is something very important. It's done with a brightness in the air - watching the people at the end with the smiles on their faces and this is a very good," said Judge Richard S. Bernhardt.

Maryland had 3,141 adoptions and guardianships in the 12-month period that ended on June 30, 2005, according to court statistics. Anne Arundel County, the fifth-largest court system in the state, accounted for 342 of them. The figures do not distinguish between adoption and guardianship, but on a typical Thursday, three or four adoptions are finalized in the county.

The day held significance beyond the families.

Davis-Loomis had the biggest adoption practice in the county while in private practice. "I would get fruit baskets, big ones, and flowers," she said. "My law partners would say, `How come we don't get fruit and flowers from our clients?' And I'd say, `You don't give yours babies.' "

Appearing before her was John Greene, the judge's former law partner who took over her adoption practice in the mid-90s. He is on his fourth bulletin board of photos of smiling faces. He never had that when he was a litigator.

Sun reporter Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.

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