Adoptive parents sue legal team, agency for $35M

Steve Gonzalez Apr. 11, 2005, 11:18pm

Lutheran Child and Family Services in Belleville

Lutheran and Family Services in East St. Louis

Claiming they lost the society of their daughter during the four first critical weeks of her life, the adoptive parents of Janissa Rockstad are suing their former legal team and an adoption agency for $35 million alleging they botched the adoption and wrongfully accused them of abusing their infant.

Denise and Jack Rockstad of North Carolina claim attorneys Deborah Crouse Cobb and Kirsten Crouse Bays, formerly of Crouse Cobb & Bays and a paralegal, Susan Wolk, were responsible for their daughter being removed from their custody. Janissa was born on March 28, 2003.

The Rockstads also seek damages from Lutheran Child and Family Services and Independent Adoption Center.

According to the 75-page complaint filed April 11 in Madison County Circuit Court, the Rockstads signed a contract with Independent Adoption Center on March 22, 2002, to adopt a baby and agreed to pay them $15,300. The couple retained Crouse Cobb for legal services to assist with an interstate adoption.

The natural parents--Jessica Kupka and Aaron Johanson--decided they wanted the Rockstads to adopt their unborn daughter and they assigned their baby's rights to Lutheran Child and Family Service. In addition, an "entrustment" was established which would authorize the Rockstads as legal parents.

After March 31, 2003, Susan Wolk contacted the Rockstads identifying herself as a paralegal employed by their attorney, and stated that she was assisting their attorney.

Wolk also worked for Lutheran Child and Family Services, according to the complaint. She advised the Rockstads that while legal filings were being completed, the family needed to remain in Illinois.

The Rockstads claim that on April 10, 2003, Wolk made a call to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services alleging that the Rockstads were not properly feeding or caring for their daughter. Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois then took the baby from the Rockstads, the complaint states.

Madison County Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli ordered custody of Janissa be returned to the Rockstads on May 8, 2003.

"LCFS is enjoined from taking any action anywhere in the world to bring about the adoption of Baby Girl Kupka by anyone," Tognarelli wrote in his order.

The suit alleges that Wolk, Crouse Cobb, and Crouse Bays breached their duty to use the skill and care used by a reasonably well qualified attorney by failing to:

  • Determine whether the birth parents and the Rockstads wanted to give custody of the baby to Lutheran Child and Family services;

  • Explain the process and requirements of an interstate adoption;

  • Ensure that appropriate paperwork was filed to complete the adoption;

  • Advise the Rockstads that there was a conflict of interest because they previously represented Lutheran and still had existing relationships with them;

  • Advise that Wolk also was an employee of Lutheran;

    The suit also claims legal malpractice for:

  • Allowing Wolk to make allegations to the DCFS that the Rockstads would be unfit parents;

  • Negligently advising the Rockstads that there was nothing they could do to regain custody;

  • Negligently advising the Rockstads that they should not seek to continue adoption proceedings;

  • Carelessly acting contrary to the interest of the Rockstads and failing to advise them they could not competently represent them in the adoption.

    The Rockstads claim as a result they suffered severe and permanent emotional and psychological trauma and anguish, legal fees of over $40,237.19, unneeded expenses of living in Illinois of $45,811.80, and lost wages in the amount of $12,280.

    The Rockstads are represented by Jamie Bas of Belleville; the case has been assigned to Circuit Judge George Moran.

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