Well, it is now clear why it has taken so long for the Supreme Court of Missouri to render a decision in the custody case involving Encarnacion Romero and her young son.  The decision, handed down today, was 4-3. They may not have made a Solomonic recommendation to cut the child in half, but the court itself was clearly deeply divided.

Recall that, in this case, the mother was an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who was arrested while working at a poultry plant in southern Missouri.  She was jailed.  The law under which she was jailed was later  struck down by the United States Supreme Court.  By the time she was released, however, Missouri courts had approved her son's adoption by a Missouri couple.  She is seeking to have the adoption nullified and to regain custody of her son.  At the time of her arrest, in May, 2007, he was seven months old.  He is now four.

The majority ducked making a final decision even though, as they note, "the trial court plainly erred by entering judgment on the adoption petition and terminating Mother's parental rights without complying with" various Missouri statues.  In a footnote, they wrote "Every member of this Court agrees that this case is a travesty in its egregious procedural errors, its long duration, and its impact on Mother, Adoptive Parents, and, most importantly, Child."  They order a retrial, in which the mother has effective counsel, and "make no suggestion as to who will or should prevail."

Judge Laura Denvir Smith wrote a stinging dissent, noting that "repeated, open, obvious and evident errors, combined with the ineffective assistance of counsel, set the stage for the factually erroneous judgment depriving the mother of her relationship with her son....They are," she opines, "entitled to be reunited."  Judge Michael Wolff also dissented, "The passage of time does not make a wrong a right," he writes, and goes on "It is our duty to make sure that the law is obeyed.  Not in 90 more days or 900 more days, but now."  He includes in his dissent a table showing the frighteningly drawn out timeline of the legal proceedings in the case, and notes, "the shameful pattern of delay and pettifogging that characterizes this case.  Much of the delay in this case has been caused by the lawyers, with the courts' indulgence."

Given the trial record, it is clear that an injustice has been done to the mother.  It is equally clear that, at this time, the best interest of the child would probably dictate that he remain with his adoptive parents, since he has, apparently, emotionally bonded with them.  But the precedent would be intolerable.  Again, Judge Wolff, "The law does not allow for the mother's child to be taken from her just because he has been in the custody of the adoptive parents for all this time.  If that were the case, lawyers and courts would be encouraged to handle these cases as slowly as possible."  In this case, it seems, the child will have to be punished because of the misbehaviors of the lawyers and judges.

Missouri court rules immigrant's adoption rights terminated illegally   

Missouri court sides with immigrant in adoption appeal 

Court sides with immigrant in adoption case.

Another Jasper County case sets precedent in legal arena