In a potentially landmark decision, a Takoma Park woman who was adopted as a child has been given permission to see her sealed birth records and learn the identities of her natural parents.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Joyce Hens Green issued the ruling last Friday in a case involving Carolyn Brinker, a 22-year-old mother of two.
Legal observers said that, although the decision is not the first of its kind in the nation, it adds momentum to the national movement of adopted persons seeking access to their birth records. The same arguments made successfully in the D.C. court case, the observers said, could be made elsewhere in similar cases.
The District government does not plan to appeal the decision according to Nancy Dorsch, an assistant corporation counsel who represented the city in the case.
"I'm really glad that after three years of searching I can finally find out who my parents are," Brinker said yesterday. "There is still the question of whether they will want to talk with me even if I find [them]. If they don't want to talk, at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing my medical background."
In her ruling, Judge Green ordered the D.C. Department of Human Resources to provide Brinker within 60 days the full names and last known addresses of her natural parents, after the city has made an attempt to locate the parents.
If the city locates Brinker's natural parents, Judge Green ordered that the parents be approached in as "unobtrusive and sensitive a manner as possible" to determine if they are willing to meet with Brinker.
If one or both of the parents agrees to a meeting, the court will provide Brinker with their current address and identity. If one or both natural parents object to meeting Brinker, Judge Green's ruling requires that they appear in a private hearing before her to explain why.
If both parents object, the court would provide Brinker only with identifying information contained in the court's files. It then would be up to Brinker whether she wanted to pursue the search further.
"The effect of the judge's decision will be to make available to any adult adoptee for the first time their sealed birth records," said Brinker's attorney, David Z. Sadoff.
Brinker first presented her case in D.C. Superior Court in January, 1977, before then-Judge Charles W. Halleck. Halleck denied her request because he said he felt a ruling in her favor would set a serious precedent.
Later Brinker took her case to the D.C. Court of Appeals, where she was granted a full hearing on her request. Her case was heard again last October before Judge Green. Brinker's twin sister, who also was adopted, did not join pin the suit that led to Friday's ruling.
In her request, Brinker told the court that she has wanted to know the identity of her natural parents and some older brothars and sisters since her early teens. She said that not knowing the details of he family background left her confused. She also said she was concerned about possible hereditary diseases or health problems that might affect her children.
She also told the court that her adoptive parents had told her all they knew about her natural family and that they fully support her efforts to obtain more information.
Dorsch, the assistant corporation counsel, said she was "not disturbed" by the judge's decision. "We were not as much the adversary in this case as we were the informant," Dorsch said.
"We presented several people in the field of adoption during the case to try to point out that natural parents were promised anonymity at the time of the adoption," Dorsch said. "Our position was that granting the adoptee the right to open sealed records could possibly violate rights of the birth parents."
In her decision, Judge Green took into consideration the interests of the adoptive parents, the natural parents and the adopted child, with her ruling giving the greatest amount of weight to arguments made by the adoptee.
"There is no case law in the District of Columbia to guide this court in determining whether to subordinate a birth parent's interest in privacy to the adoptee's interest in seeking his identity," she wrote. "... The court is therefore impelled to find in this case that the privacy interests of the birth parents must bow to the interest of the adoptee..."
According to Brinker, who was put up for adoption with her twin sister in 1959, her curiosity about her family background became an all-out investigation three years ago when her second chid was born.
"I had no idea what kind of heredity health problems my children might be up against," she said. "I went to my adoptive parents and all they could tell me was that my parents were married and that I have several older brothers and sisters."
"Now I hope I will have the chance to meet them all," she said yesterday. "I think that if I had given a child up for adoption I would feel a sense of relief if the child found me."