A recent order from the Alabama Supreme Court confirmed that a judicial recusal in a Mobile County adoption case had been improperly handled, allowing a local mother engaged in a legal battle to keep her son to once again discuss her case publicly.
Last July, Kim Rossler caused a stir when a story about her “wrongful adoption” was published by the Huffington Post. It was widely shared and put Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis and a local adoption attorney in the crosshairs of the internet’s wrath.
Though she never expected that level of attention, Rossler told Lagniappe this week she felt telling her story was her best chance at getting her newborn son back.
“They weren’t taking me seriously, and I saw it from day one at Strickland Youth Center,” Rossler said. “I would have gotten railroaded by the whole system if I wouldn’t have screamed so loudly.”
That “screaming” was about the adoption of her son, Elliott, who in July 2015 was taken under a court order and delivered to a woman who had agreed to adopt the child. Rossler said she originally intended to put Elliott up for adoption, but changed her mind after undergoing counseling prior to his birth last May.
According to Rossler, she shared her decision to keep her son with all interested parties, including the adoptive mother and the adoptive mother’s attorney, Donna Ames. Rossler admits to authorizing the adoption and accepting money from the adopting parent during her pregnancy but said she was always under the impression she had taken the necessary steps to keep her son.
“I did sign the pre-birth consent and my monthly allowance approval with Don Davis in court, but I did what Donna [Ames] told me to do every step of the way,” she said. “My child went home with me. I was on the birth certificate, and when I told them I wasn’t doing it, they said, ‘OK.’”
Ames, however, has continued to maintain she “never represented [Rossler] in this case,” and was always representing the adopting parent, identified in previous reports as Birmingham resident Kate Sharp.
Adoption Rocks, a nonprofit, pro-adoption organization, was also brought into the story, though the level of the organization’s involvement in Rossler’s case has been disputed by Ames. According to Ames, Adoption Rocks is sometimes used as a meeting place for birth parents and adopting parents or for counseling but doesn’t get involved with adoption cases.
“Adoption Rocks has been totally mischaracterized. I happen to be a founding board member, but we’re an awareness group,” Ames told Lagniappe. “Everybody wants to bring it into this to sensationalize the story, but [this] girl’s parents knew me, and that’s why I was brought in as a private lawyer.”
Rossler claims Ames “presented herself” to be on her side, even testifying in court to say she “had contacted other attorneys” but was told by Ames that “she was the best one and that I needed her to work with me.”
Prior to Huffington Post’s story, Ames dropped Sharp as a client — passing her to David Broome, who has represented her in Rossler’s continued efforts to challenge Elliott’s adoption.
Last year Davis recused himself from overseeing that case. Probate Clerk Joe McEarchern subsequently selected attorney J. Michael Druhan — who has previously served as Davis’ personal attorney — to stand in as an appointed judge.
Rossler’s attorney, Scott Hunter, challenged that appointment, not because of Druhan’s connection to Davis, but because the proper protocol wasn’t followed when he was selected.
According to Hunter, Mobile is unique in that it has specific legislation requiring probate judges have a law degree, and because of that, replacements for a recused judge are chosen from a pre-approved list and selected by either the Alabama Supreme Court or Presiding Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick.
“The issue isn’t who they picked, it’s that they shouldn’t have been the ones doing the picking,” Hunter said. “McEarchern appointed Druhan. That’s the issue, because it should have been the Supreme Court or the presiding judge.”
Later, Rossler challenged Druhan’s denial of a supplemental motion asking him to recuse himself and an order he entered in July 2015 that prohibited the parties from “publicly discussing matters related to the adoption” — an order issued shortly after Rossler’s story went viral online.
The court ruled in Rossler’s favor and then confirmed its ruling May 27, saying “Druhan was never properly appointed as a temporary probate judge” and, thus, never had the authority to enter any court order.
The decision not only reversed Druhan’s appointment but also invalidated every action he’s taken in the case — overturning the gag order and leaving the probate court 14 days for Graddick to name a replacement to oversee the case.
The deadline for the replacement is Friday, June 17, at which point Rossler’s case will revert back to where it was when Davis recused himself last July.
Though she’s no longer involved in the case, Ames still maintains she did nothing wrong in her representation of the adopting mother or in the advice she gave to Rossler, describing the situation as “very unfortunate for everybody.”
“These are legal proceedings, and the law is designed to be done in a certain way,” Ames said. “I feel like I certainly did everything I could have done. That’s about all I can say, but I do think [Sharp] will be successful in the adoption.”
As for Rossler, she’s spent the last year looking up and studying adoption cases from across the country, searching for any information that could help her “bring baby Elliott home.”
“I don’t know anything about my child. When he left me, he had a closed tear duct, and I don’t even know if it’s ever opened. I don’t know if he ever got acclimated to formula. I don’t even know if he’s developing right. There’s nothing, but it’s not like I haven’t tried,” Rossler said. “Luckily, I have a really good job now, and I can better afford everything that has to do with the court case and be more capable of providing for my son.”