Adoption, Law & Ethics

Two years (2017-2019)

“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” Dorothy Allison

by Michelle Riess

This week it has been two full years since I made the unexpected discovery that I am adopted after getting a DNA match to one of my three full biological sisters. I was forty years old at the time and had never been told that I was adopted. This was obviously a very shocking thing to discover about yourself as an adult, especially when you grew up believing you were an only child and wishing for siblings. (you can read about my adoption discovery here)

I can’t believe it’s been two years already! It feels like it was a lifetime ago and just yesterday all in the same breath. I feel like I’ve known my family forever even though we only met each other for the first time two years ago. I still can’t believe all of this has happened–I don’t think I will ever be able to fully process it all because it’s just so extraordinary. The number of times we’ve been told that our experience is like watching a movie or reading a novel is well into the hundreds at this point, so I know I’m not alone in my utter disbelief. Lol!

Just a quick recap of the timeline of events: I got the initial Ancestry DNA match to my sister, Jamie, on September 11, 2017. That was followed by about four days of uncertainty between Jamie and me as we tried to make sense of things. By the fifth day I already knew the truth in my heart. Finally, I received verbal confirmation from the adoptive family on September 17, 2017 after directly questioning them about my origins. The entire process lasted only one week.

Now at two years since this discovery, I’ve had time to process more of the facts surrounding the adoption, and the people involved, with a much clearer mind. I have absolutely no regrets for any of the decisions I’ve made and continue to move forward with my life. However, a few things still trouble us deeply. For example, we do not understand why the extended adoptive family wasn’t more aggressive in encouraging the adoptive parents to do the right thing. Also, why didn’t the State of New Jersey ever follow-up with my adoption, especially after the indictment/conviction of the attorney who arranged it for the adoptive parents? It’s incomprehensible how so many people knew the truth, but all seemingly believed that I would never find out–even long after sites like Ancestry.com came around. It’s honestly mind-blowing, especially since the adoptive parents knew I was heavily involved in genealogy and that I had even done DNA testing. The DNA testing alone should have been cause for them to finally tell me the truth (albeit about three decades too late by that time!) I don’t know if it was arrogance or pure stupidity, but clearly the adoptive parents were out of touch with reality in regards to my adoption and their long-term responsibilities as adoptive parents.

I’m not going to dwell on the negative, especially since there is an abundance of happiness in my life today. I really want to take this opportunity to ask people to be more honest with the people in your life, to be fully accountable for your own actions, and when you do mess up to accept the consequences with grace. Also, if you know someone in your life is harboring major secrets or is actively deceiving others for their own personal gain, do not just let it go—confront them. Be understanding, but also be direct. Firmly state that what they are doing is wrong, especially if it involves deceiving a child or someone entrusted with their care. Encourage them to do the right thing, to make better choices, and to make positive changes in their life. Eventually, the truth will find it’s way out, as it always does.

“Anything is better than lies and deceit!” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For four decades, almost two of which I was a minor, I was lied to, manipulated and programmed to believe completely fabricated “facts” about myself and, by default, misled to believe I couldn’t be anything other than their biological child. Yet we’ve never felt that the adoptive parents truly regretted their actions; only that I found out the truth and haven’t kept quiet about it. I do not believe any reasonable, informed person would disagree that the highly questionable circumstances of my adoption, and the fact that I was never told that I am adopted, were unethical and should have been handled very differently. If you cannot agree with this, then you are probably part of the larger problem that I am referring to. No amount of money, gifts, fancy vacations or material goods bestowed upon me by the adoptive parents in any way excuses their choices or their behaviors in regards to my adoption. There is no justification for any of it.

I wrote this statement last year in a different post, but it is definitely worth repeating:

“All adoptive parents have a moral obligation to be open and honest with the child they adopt about their own genetic origins. To intentionally withhold this information from an adoptee of any age is selfish and unethical. If you are not able to follow through with these clear moral obligations, you are not ready to adopt.”

There is no legitimate reason for any adoptive parent(s) to withhold the fact that a person is adopted. While some details about the adoptee’s background could be very upsetting and might be best to withhold until they are age-appropriate (and ideally with the guidance of a licensed therapist) the fact that a person is adopted should never be withheld, under any circumstances. It is never too early to start talking about adoption and is something all adoptive parents need to be prepared to talk about openly over the years; it should never be viewed as a one-time disclosure and then never discussed again.  [Relatedhow to talk about adoption with your child]

On a much more positive note, my family and I have been enjoying getting to know each other better and building a relationship with a strong foundation rooted in love, honesty, openness and mutual respect. It brings me so much peace and joy knowing we are together now and that nothing can ever separate us again. I am continually blown away by the power of genetics and the striking similarities between us all despite the fact that I grew up without them or even knowledge of their existence. It really is amazing. My three children love spending time with our family as well, though I do wish we could all get together more frequently. Life is very busy for all of us, but I definitely need to find more time to spend with them on a regular basis. I feel so at peace knowing my children will always have the security of our family even long after I am gone, and the same for their children. That is a level of security that I have never known until this discovery and is something that money and material wealth can never alone replicate. It is so empowering knowing the truth and knowing where I really come from, especially since there were always major discrepancies between what I was told by the adoptive parents and what I felt inside. I feel completely at home with myself now, which is kind of a foreign feeling to me, but I welcome the change. I am constantly working to deprogram myself from the beliefs I was trained to accept, versus reality. It’s a difficult process, but I am making great progress and living a very happy, peaceful and fulfilling life.

Thank you to everyone–my children, family, friends, co-workers, other adoptees, other birth mothers, and even complete strangers from all over the world–for your continued support and enthusiasm. My family and I are always blown away by everyone’s interest and how moved people are by our story. We feel so fortunate that our story had such a beautiful ending despite having to wait four decades to get here! We will continue to share news, stories and updates on this website and on our Facebook page. I’m also hoping that my mom, Hollie, and my sisters might write about their experiences here as well. So many people have also expressed their desire for us to write a book about our story, so that is something that might happen in the very near future as well. There may also be some other exciting things coming up in the new year, too…. Stay tuned!

Love,
Michelle

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

 

Adoption, Law & Ethics, News & Media

Newspaper articles about Michelle’s 1976 adoption

If you would like to read some of the newspaper articles regarding the case against the attorney that illegally arranged the adoption, you can view them HERE. In some of the articles, Michelle is the adopted child referred to simply as the December 4, 1976 “incident.”

Many of these articles include statements taken from Kent’s court testimony that contradict Hollie’s experiences, including his heavy involvement after Michelle’s birth. They also contradict information given to Michelle in 2017 by her adoptive father. We will make a separate post about these inconsistencies at a later date.

So far, our research has produced about 12 articles from a variety of newspapers including the Courier-Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The New York Times. We will add a few new articles to this page at a later date.

VIEW ALL OF THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLES HERE

 https://ouradoptionreunion.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1981convicted.jpg

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess/ Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

‘Adoption lawyer’s’ term suspended (1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: October 17, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By RENEE WINKLER
Of the Courier-Post

CAMDEN – A Willingboro attorney, convicted in July of illegally acting as an intermediary in three adoptions, yesterday was given a suspended jail term and placed on probation for one year.

Before Edward Kent, 55, was given the sentence he made an emotional speech, criticizing the law that makes it illegal for persons to help in the placement of unwanted children.

Kent, who lives in Edgewater Park, praised Deputy Attorney General Nancy Singer, who presented the state’s case against him, and Superior Court Judge Peter J. Corruzzi, who convicted him after a non-jury trial, commenting that both were complying with the law.

The state law requires all private adoptions to be supervised by the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

Kent had contacted clergymen in several Burlington County municipalities after unmarried pregnant women came to him looking for adoptive parents for their children.

Kent, who specializes in matrimonial and family law, is an opponent of abortion.

He objected to a statement by a Camden County probation officer who commented that he had helped in the adoptions because of a profit motive. No allegations were made that Kent charged excessive fees for the adoptions and his defense lawyer, Carl D. Poplar of Haddonfield, argued that he had given hundreds of hours of unpaid work to help in adoptions.

Kent, who began to sob before sentence was announced, said that his average fee for an adoption was $500. “I charge $1,000 or more for a divorce, an act of destruction, compared to this, an act of construction, of building a family,” he said.

With tears in his eyes, he said that “the years over 50 won’t be golden for me. Now I’m a convict. I’m going to pay for the rest of my life because the system wasn’t fair.”

“If I ever thought that calling up a priest or a rabbi would have gotten me into a prisoner’s dock, I would have been better off going into the garment district,” he said.

Corruzzi, who suspended a six-month term in the Camden County Jail for Kent, said he would not comment at length “because I’m afraid I might agree with some of the things you said. But the statute exists prohibiting assistance in the placement of children for adoption.”

Kent still faces disciplinary action by the Ethics Committee of the state Supreme Court. That action could be suspension of his license to practice law or disbarment.  

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Divorce lawyer convicted for adoption assistance (June 1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: June 25, 1981

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Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer indicted on adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The New York Times
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

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Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer accused in 3 adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By Francis M. Lordan
Inquirer Staff Writer

A Burlington County lawyer has been indicted on charges that in 1977 he illegally assisted in the adoption of three children in Camden County, Thomas J. Shusted, Camden County prosecutor, said yesterday.

Edward Kent, 52, who has a law office in Willingboro, was named in the eight-count indictment issued Thursday by the grand jury. No hearing date has been scheduled.

The parents and the children who were adopted were identified in the indictment only by their initials.

The indictment also charged Kent with obstructing justice by asking several of the parents not to tell of his involvement and asking another person to mislead investigators, indicating that she would “receive money if she was to mislead the investigators.” It also charged that he gave false information to a former county prosecutor.

If convicted on the eight counts, all of which are misdemeanors, Kent could face a maximum penalty of 24 years in jail and an $8,000 fine.

Shusted said that, according to state law, only authorized agencies may handle the placement of children for adoption.

Two of the children were placed in foster homes in Cherry Hill, and the third in Berlin, he said.

Shusted said Kent was the first person indicted by a grand jury on adoption-related charges since he took office six years ago.

During that period, Shusted said, evidence had been presented to the grand jury on about 10 such cases, including two that involved lawyers. But the grand jury did not indict because it did not find “criminal intent,” Shusted said.

Two years ago, Shusted said, he had sent memoranda to the Camden County Bar Association and the Camden County Medical Society asking them to remind members not to assist in such adoptions.

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Memory fails witness in adoption case (June 1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: June 5, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. This article is particularly disturbing because this biological mother was clearly being influenced in some way to lie or to withhold information about Kent’s involvement in her child’s adoption (read this article about Kent offering to pay her to lie to investigators.) We will be writing about these issues and inconsistencies at a later date.

CAMDEN — A woman who was to have been the state’s chief witness against a Willingboro lawyer charged with acting as an illegal intermediary in a series of adoptions was able to recall only sketchy information about the case yesterday.

When first called by Deputy Attorney General Nancy Singer, the woman said she couldn’t remember anything about her pregnancy in 1977, her meeting with attorney Edward Kent or the couple who adopted her baby.

When pressed by Superior Court Judge Peter J. Coruzzi, the witness remembered coming to the Camden Courthouse in February 1978 to testify in connection with an investigation of three adoptions.

But she couldn’t recall whether she lied during that testimony.

She gave birth to a baby May 1, 1977, and turned it over five days later to a woman she could not identify. At the time, she was living in Burlington Township.

Despite strong objections from defense attorney Carl Poplar, Singer read portions of her grand jury testimony into the record.

The case is being heard without a jury.

Six days of pre-trial motions were needed to compile transcripts of tape recorded conversations between Kent and yesterday’s witness. Poplar is expected to ask the court to exclude some of these tapes from evidence.

Kent, 55, is charged with obstruction of justice and three counts of acting as an intermediary in the adoptions.

Poplar said his client, who specializes in matrimonial matters, did tell pregnant women who did not want to keep their children after birth that he would pass on their names to couples seeking to adopt children. Poplar said Kent told both the natural and adoptive parents that he could not make any arrangements for the adoption.

He said Kent’s involvement ended at that point.  [A note from the Riess family: This is completely false. His involvement greatly increased at that point.]

Yesterday’s witness said she met Kent only once prior to the birth of her child and that she called him to set up the meeting. She did not speak to him again until requested to do so by members of the Camden County prosecutor’s staff, who were investigating allegations that the lawyer participated in several adoptions.

The adoptions occurred between December 1976 and May 1977.

During pre-trial motions in the case last week, reporters agreed to withhold the names of the women who gave up their children for adoption and the couples who adopted the babies.

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics, News & Media

Lawyer indicted as a middleman for adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: April 14, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts Hollie’s experiences and even some of the details that were provided to Michelle by her adoptive father in 2017. We will be writing about these inconsistencies at a later date.

By RENEE WINKLER
Courier-Post Staff

A Burlington County lawyer who specializes in matrimonial matters was indicted Thursday by a Camden County grand jury for illegally acting as an intermediary in the adoption of three children.

Edward Kent, 52, who has a law office in Willingboro, also was charged with obstruction of justice in the eight-count indictment. None of the children or the couples who wanted to adopt them is named in the indictment, although it specifies that their identities are known to the grand jury.

It was not immediately known if any of the adoptions have been finalized.

Reached at his law office in Willingboro late Thursday afternoon, Kent had no comment on the charges.

According to the indictment, Kent agreed to assist in placing children of three women with families. Knowing that papers later would have to be filed in county court for the adoption, Kent allegedly instructed the mothers to deny that he participated in the placement.

He later induced persons receiving the children to withhold information about his involvement in the placements, according to the indictment.

The indictment also charges that when Kent learned that the Camden County prosecutor’s office was investigating circumstances surrounding the placement of the children, he tried to convince one of the mothers to mislead investigators and withhold information. It further charges that Kent offered to pay the mother if she lied to investigators.   [Note from the Riess Family – now read this article]

The indictment covers incidents between Dec. 4, 1976, and May 7, 1977.

It charges that in February 1977, Kent wrote to former Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Archibald Kreiger and lies about his participation in the adoptions. That letter was in response to questions from Kreiger.

View Original Article: Click here to view a JPG of the original newspaper article

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

Law & Ethics

High Tribunal Raps Attorney for Conduct (1963)

Original publication: Courier-Post
Original publication date: January 22, 1963

“His conduct is dishonorable and brings the profession into disrepute.” -a NJ Supreme Court Justice referring to attorney Edward Kent

TRENTON (UPI) – The State Supreme Court Monday reprimanded lawyer Edward Kent of Levittown* for bypassing a Pennsylvania lawyer and dealing directly with his client.

The Pennsylvania lawyer, James P. Geoghegan, complained to the Burlington County Ethics Committee that Kent had sought to arrange settlement of an auto accident through direct dealings with Geoghegan’s client.

He said this violated the professional ethics. 

Kent represented Paul Colton, who was involved in an automobile accident with Geoghegan’s client, Harvey P. Moyer. Colton, who had moved from Pennsylvania to Levittown, N.J., was seeking to pay off $1,569.50 to Moyer in order to obtain a driver’s license in New Jersey.

Kent said neither he nor Colton, were able to contact Geoghegan and that he then arranged to meet with Moyer in order to settle the manner of payment. Kent said he worked directly through Moyer because Colton needed to clear up the matter of payment quickly as he needed his car in order to work.

Kent sent a letter of apology to Geoghegan. The court held that because of Kent’s “candor and his acceptable apology,” Kent should not be disbarred from practice but should be reprimanded.

* Levittown is now Willingboro, NJ

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.