May 13, 2004

He Family Loses Custody Battle

POST #    1031

In an update on an earlier entry, it looks like the custody case of Anna Mae has been decided. The biological parents, from China, lost their custody battle to a white-Christian family who adopted Anna Mae. Five years ago, the Hes were going through a difficult time and turned to an adoption agency, who found the Baker family. The Hes thought the adoption would be temporary, so they went through a four year legal fight, which ended with a victory for the Bakers yesterday.

Clearly, it was a difficult case for both families, and like I said last time, there is only one loser - Anna Mae. But one has to wonder how the case would end up if the Hes had every resource available to the Bakers. Sure, the Bakers had to sell their home because of the mounting legal fees, but the Hes had to work in Chinese restaurants. To me, the whole case stinks of xenophobia - fears of Anna Mae moving to China and living in close quarters with relatives, Chinese life being a hardship, etc. Also troubling is that, according to the Bakers' lawyer, the judge had taken into account the character of the Bakers. I read that and think, "Bakers, white. White is better. Bakers, Christian. Christian much better."

After the trial, Mr. He said, "We are convinced that in Memphis, Tennessee, justice does not come easy, especially for minorities and immigrants." I'm convinced of that too, but I think that applies to many places in the United States. Man, equality is great, isn't it?

- NY Times: Chinese Parents Not Tricked, Judge Says in Custody Case
- Previously on the He/Baker Case

Posted by tien mao in Culture at 9:53 AM



It's definitely FUBAR, no doubt about it. I get the impression that the Hes were taken advantage of throughout the whole process since it seemed like half the time they didn't really grasp the consequences of their action (or inaction).

Posted by: Ben at May 13, 2004 11:24 AM

I see your point, but maybe the judge didn't want to take the baby away from the home it has been in for the past few years- or maybe he penalized the other party for giving up the baby and then wanting it back just when it's convenient. It's not necessarily xenophobic, but I do think it's important to question it, if there's "invidious discrimination" in which they could win on an equal protection suit.

Posted by: Heather at May 13, 2004 12:49 PM

I wrote a long response the first time you posted about this custody battle and decided it was too lengthy and complicated to really discuss via internet.

My condensed opinion is it is much better for the child to remain with the people who she has identified with as her parents for the last five years. Taking her away from the two people who have raised her and then relocating her would seriously distable the child.

Whether or not the birth parents grasped what their actions would incur, it has no consequence to what is in the best interest of the child.

Posted by: christiona at May 13, 2004 3:02 PM

On another note, the picture of the birth mom really tears me up. I don't think I can look at your site until it is further down. I wish their financial situation could have worked out better for them in the beginning.

Posted by: christiona at May 13, 2004 3:14 PM

i agree with everyone that the child is probably better off at this point to stay with the baker family, but i think the case should never have gotten this far.

call me biased, but i feel like the birth parents were tricked and/or not given a full explanation of the situation. whether or not that's relevant in this case is another issue. to me, the end result of this case, is that a well to do family wins over a family that is not as privileged. while i feel both families could provide for the child equally, but at the end, the decision wasn't right. in a way, i think this is similar to the whole rich guy has lawyer and gets away with murder thing.

i realize this is an incredibly simplistic way to look at a complex case, but what can i say...i'm a simple man.

Posted by: tien at May 13, 2004 3:24 PM

I agree with tien on the xenophobia surrounding this case. The premises of this case is based on a cultral imterpertation of what is providing a "good life".

You have the American view, which is that the US is a better place, thus having the girl stay in the US will be better environment for her.

Where as in the Chinese view, it's the connection to family, to the history of the family that is the meaning of proving a good life.

I'm bummed out about this, because even if the Hes were not tricked as I feel they were, I feel that the court never really looked at the facts from the view of the Chinese culture.

Before you start screaming about this being in an American court, you have to realize this is an international case invloving two different cultures with very different views on a subject.

But yeah like Mr. He said, justice does not come easy, especially for minorities and immigrants.

Posted by: Keith at May 13, 2004 4:54 PM

ugh. that story makes me feel ill. that situation is completely fucked.

Posted by: jeannette at May 13, 2004 11:36 PM

I believe that it is in the best interest of the child to be reunited with her biological parents. If one considers the long-term implications to her psychological well-being, then she should be returned to her biological parents as soon as possible.

In the foster care system, children are routinely returned to their biological parents, even after long separation. If the reattachment is done slowly and carefully, there should be minimal trauma to the child.

Posted by: Steve at May 14, 2004 2:13 PM

I agree with Steve's comments. That poor little girl should be back with her natural parents. The cultural insensitivity (or maybe we should just call it racism?) on display throughout these happenings has been astounding.

There should be an appeal. And another appeal after that if necessary. What sort of people are the Bakers anyway, to do this to the Hes and their child? Ugly, ugly, ugly...

Posted by: Phil at May 18, 2004 12:20 PM

I saw this case in USA Today online and instantly took an interest. I then found this related site and read comments. I called up my little brother who is adopted. I asked him to read these things. A few days later when I talked to him he informed me that being adopted and raised by a family that was not his biological family didn't fuck him up in the least. As he so eloquently put it, if people can't raise their children and want to give them up, then let them. But, don't let them change their minds later and yank the child out of loving arms.
Reading this site and seeing reference to the American justice system being so unfair and all made me wonder....if it is so unfair to people of other cultures then why are people of other cultures so eager to come to America and be allowed to bad mouth it? I mean, for instance, in China are the citizens allowed to trash the government and second guess the laws? In China what would have happenned to Mrs. He when the police were called to stop her from standing on someone's front lawn screaming and holding a sign? Would Mrs. He be seen as a rational adult in a court of law in China? Would the court system have dropped the sexual charges against Mr. He because of a lack of evidence?
I have a very good idea...why don't the supporters of the He's leave this happy (you notice I didn't say unfortunate) child alone, go to china and live the life you think she should live and make a comparison. That way the only on that ends up needing psychaitric help for confusion and unhappiness is someone that is old enough to deal with it and make their own decision. While you are there in China, cause some waves and stir up some protesters. Start a website and devote it to some person that doesn't need your help or your opinion and see how long you can trash the government before they come to get you!

Posted by: christy in Amarillo at May 20, 2004 4:15 PM

christy, i usually don't comment on things that i posted a long time ago, but i'll just address some issues that you bought up.

this country is built on the back of immigrants. i'm going to venture out on a limb and say you're not native american. if you are, then you're fine to criticize. so if your family came over since the american revolution, does that mean you have no right to "bad mouth" this country? if that's the way you think, you're just plain foolish.

the reason this country is great is because anyone can say anything they want about the government. if i want to say "george bush is a crazy lunatic that needs to be tried in a war crimes tribunal," i can. and if you're telling the he family supporters to go back to where they came, why don't the baker supporters go back to where they came?

Posted by: tien at May 20, 2004 4:27 PM
Anna Mae Case: A Test for the U.S. Judicial System

On May 12, 2004, Tennessee Judge Robert Childers terminated the parental rights of Chinese immigrants, Jack and Casey He, allowing a local mortgage banker and his wife, Jerry and Louise Baker, to adopt the Hes’ five-year-old daughter, Anna Mae, away from them. Though to date the Hes’ lawyers have never received a signed copy of his ruling (they ultimately had to access the ruling via the website of the administrative offices of the court), Judge Childers promptly released an electronic copy of his ruling to the news media, sending shockwaves across the Internet and throughout the local community. His unexpected ruling also raised eyebrows in the Hes’ home country of China, where various groups and officials awaited the outcome of the bitter four-year battle.

In his lengthy ruling, Judge Childers found the Hes guilty of willful abandonment of their daughter, effectively dismissing the fact that this poor Chinese couple has been fighting all along in three courts and before four judges for her return. As pointed out by several legal experts surveyed by news media, Childers’s ruling contains seriously flawed arguments and a handful of unsupported assumptions.

Case in point: Childers cited as a basis for his ruling a Tennessee law governing the timeframe required to justify abandonment. Should the Hes have had no contact with their daughter for a four-month window, this would constitute, in the eyes of the law, abandonment. Childers cited a specific window, January 29 to June 6 of 2001, in which the Hes had no direct contact with their daughter due to their perception that the Bakers would have them arrested if they approached the child. The fact that Mrs. He did, in fact, file a legal petition on April 9, 2001—during the window in question—to compel the return of her child was used by Childers as evidence to justify terminating her parental rights. Childers ruled that Mrs. He did not specify in her petition her request for visitation, so her petition to get her child back “evinces Mrs. He’s willful abandonment of AMH.”

To further justify his conclusion of willful abandonment, Childers elected to ignore critical refuting evidence, such as an October 3, 1999 entry in a secret journal kept by the Bakers. In that journal, as well as in their later testimony, the Bakers stated that they wished to reduce the Hes’ visits with their daughter for the express purpose of weaning the couple away from her. Childers also chose to consider the modified testimony by the Bakers that contradicted their earlier testimony and other evidence already introduced to the court. (The Bakers had originally confirmed that the police had ordered the Hes off the Baker property and not to return, laying the foundation for the Hes’ four-month absence from Anna Mae’s life and raising the question of abandonment; in their modified testimony, the Bakers claimed the police had told the Hes not to return that day only.) By deliberate omission and selection of testimony, Childers concluded that the Bakers never discouraged or hindered the Hes’ visits and that the Hes’ failure to visit for four months therefore constituted willful abandonment, i.e. grounds for termination of parental rights.

Further, Childers issued a ruling that “there is parental misconduct or inability to parent by the Hes,” saying that “the physical environment of the Hes’ home is unhealthy and unsafe.” This was based almost exclusively on testimony from Mr. Baker, who stated he found the Hes’ apartment unsavory when he visited in 1999, even going so far as to cite the presence of fish bones from the Hes’ cooking as evidence of their lack of cleanliness. Interestingly enough, Childers said nothing at all about the successful parenting the Hes have been engaged in with their other two children, nor did he give weight to the Hes’ noteworthy improvement in apartments over the last five years or a November 2003 visit from the guardian at litem that found their living conditions satisfactory. Childers did not cite even a single piece of evidence to prove the Hes’ parental misconducts! Instead, he simply decreed that the Hes were unfit parents, and therefore, their parental rights had to be terminated in the matter of their first-born daughter.

Another ruling that is highly questionable was his detailed explanation of the origin of two court orders issued by the ex trial judge, D.J. Alissandratos, i.e. “Guardianship order and No Contact Order.” Larry Parrish, the lawyer for the Bakers, testified during the trial that he knew exactly how the two under-the-table orders came into being, i.e. they were issued during a private meeting between Mr. Parrish and the Court in the absence of any hearing or even the prior knowledge of the Hes or their lawyer. Now, however, Childers—in his findings of laws and facts—presents a new version of the origin of these two court orders by citing an unrelated conference call between various parties as the moment of disclosure, dismissing the private meeting; in essence, he excludes the “ex parte” deal between the Court and Mr. Parrish.

As one might expect, the Hes are devastated by the ruling and are deeply humiliated by its harsh and inaccurate words for assassination of their character. David Siegel and Richard Gordon, the pro bono lawyers for the defense, have vowed to appeal the ruling, seeking true justice from a higher court. But the appeal process is hampered by the impoverished state of the Hes, a situation further aggravated when, a few days after his ruling, Childers took an additional step of freezing a fundraising account, a non-profit foundation, to help defray the Hes’ legal expenses. Their supporters have recently felt forced to establish a new fundraising account ( while the money they had previously raised sits in a legal limbo, awaiting judgment from the court.
Since the Hes lost their legal immigration status several years ago, the Bakers and their lawyers have repeatedly requested that the INS deport the couple before the custody case was over—a quick victory without the necessity of a trial. Now Judge Childers has ended the four-year custody battle, and the Hes are justifiably concerned that the INS may now deport them prior to the conclusion of their appeal. And since Childers has seemingly arbitrarily declared them unfit parents, they are worried that their two other children might also be taken away from their “unsafe and unhealthy living environment.” Despite all of this, the Hes vow that, while they may have lost their faith in the Tennessee courts, they still have confidence in U.S. judicial system in general, and they have promised to fight until the very end to regain their constitutionally protected parental rights of their first-born daughter.

The United States Supreme Court has always treated parental rights as constitutionally protected human rights that should be given utmost respect by the law. So although the Hes are Chinese citizens living in a sometimes-hostile foreign land, they should be given an equally fair chance to defend their parental rights in the U.S. justice system. The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. is monitoring the case as it works its way through the system. And officials in China also await the outcome of what has been a decidedly uphill battle for the Hes thus far. In the end, the world is watching and waiting for real justice.

Posted by: Christina at August 2, 2004 5:50 PM

oh, that was such a thoughtful comment! thank you so much for cutting and pasting onto my site! for that, i've deleted the url that you put in the form. jackass.

Posted by: tien at August 2, 2004 5:55 PM

i think what happend was the right thing.....dont send the baby back to a family that hardley knows it, its been with this other family and the baby knows them as mom and dad, so i think it would be wrong to send the babay to another family now

Posted by: steven parsons at May 30, 2005 10:15 PM

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