‘Sold' to highest bidder
The current law puts the state in a bad position as well, said Katherine Brewer, an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County.
The state often gets involved in private adoptions. For example: A baby is born addicted to drugs and must be placed in DHS care. At that point, because of privacy concerns for the child, the state cannot share any information with prospective adoptive parents, she said.
She also has seen cases where a birth mother is using her unborn child to get bills paid and had no intention of giving her baby up for adoption. Under the law, a mother and father have all rights to their child until a court terminates their parental rights.
There also have been a growing number of situations where babies are being marketed to several different private attorneys, and essentially "sold” to the highest bidder, she said.
Attorneys urge caution
John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association, questioned whether imposing regulations on attorneys would be constitutional. Regulating the practice of law is the sole jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, he said.
It is wrong for adoption advocates to imply that there is no regulation on attorneys, he said. Attorneys must follow the rules of professional conduct and risk disbarment if they don't. The Oklahoma Bar Association has a general counsel's office which takes complaints of misconduct and investigates each one.
"There are few professions that are as heavily regulated as we are as far as our conduct,” he said.
Sure, there are likely a few bad apples, as there are in any profession, Williams said. But as far as he is aware, attorney abuse in adoption cases is not a widespread problem in Oklahoma. But if it is, he urges those pushing for the increased regulations to file complaints about lawyers who are allegedly abusing the system.
"If it is a real problem, we will go after them,” he said.
Tulsa family law attorney Bill LaSorsa said adoption agencies have a financial incentive to make it harder for attorneys to facilitate adoptions. While many agencies charge flat fees for adoptions, LaSorsa said he doesn't know any attorney who has done an adoption that has charged any more than the time spent on the case.
He said the general statements being made about attorneys are colored by the perspective those at adoption agencies inherently have, he said.
Federal changes wanted
Maureen Flatley, an adoption law expert based in Boston, said Oklahoma can tighten its laws, but the adoption system will not be significantly affected until federal regulations are put in place.
Flatley added that people often forget that adoption is a multibillion dollar industry, and those making that money have a financial reason to fight consistent regulation.
Adoption regulation is left to the states, forming a patchwork of requirements. Anyone with a Web site can operate in multiple states, Flatley said, and can therefore manipulate the laws to their advantage.
"You can have the best rules you want, but if the transaction doesn't end within the four walls of that state, it doesn't mean a thing,” she said.
With the changes being sought by McCool and others, Flatley said Oklahoma could take the lead in adoption reform nationwide.
And any regulations that are put in place need to have hefty criminal penalties to ensure they are followed.
"This should be the most obvious no-brainer of all time,” Flatley said.