The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to review a struggle between two District of Columbia men over who will be the legal father of two teen-agers caught up in a divorce.
The case stems from a Superior Court decision allowing the children's stepfather to adopt them over the objections of the natural father, Eugene Johnson III. The stepfather had married Johnson's former wife, who had custody of the children, before seeking the adoption.
Johnson told the justices he was illegally stripped of his parental rights by the Superior Court decision in August 1978, and asked them to review the standards for divorce-related adoption.
Judge PAUL R. Webber III based his decision on the failure of Johnson to visit his children during a five-year period when he had the opportunity. Webber said that while he recognized the natural father's love for them, the adoption would give "final security to the family unit" instead of "leaving them to wander upon a course of uncertainty in the hope that someday they will be able to accept and benefit from [Johnson's] love."
Johnson argued that his failure to visit the children was not an abandonment, which might justify the adoption, but a conscious effort to avoid the emotional upset that seemed to occur whenever he saw them.
Johnson's former wife, Deborah, and her new husband, John O. LaGorce II, sought the adoption after Johnson sought photographs of the children. That, according to Webber's opinion, "was viewed as a signal that [Johnson] intended to reenter the children's lives." The couple "feared the psychological effect" of this and hoped the adoption would prevent it.