(If you haven’t already, you might want to read part 1 of my search. )
I walked in to the Lincoln Hall of Justice Probate court for Wayne County on Forest avenue in Detroit on Friday December 12, 2011. Up on the third floor in courtroom B is where I would ask a judge to release my birth father’s last name. I took the small elevator up to the third floor, thanking God I wasn’t claustrophobic because this metal box felt like a straight jacket as I rode up two flights.
I exited the elevator, and drew in enough clean air to inflate both my lungs. I blew out the stale elevator air and told myself to calm down. Logically, this court hearing should be short and bitter-sweet. This was a simple case of returning to me what was mine. Everyone involved agreed this information was in MY file and the man’s name in the file was MY father. No one was arguing that, so in my mind it was a basic three step process. I should step up, identify myself, and the court should turn over the information.
Unfortunately, in this tangled web of legalese some feel I don’t have a right to this information and I wasn’t sure what side of this argument the judge would sit.
The court time was set for 12:00 pm and I was 15 minutes early. I sat outside the court room waiting to hear my name called. Soon I heard my name over the gargled it’s-about-time-we-invested-in-a new-system-intercom. The static-filled voice told me to report to 3B. I walked in and the judge asked my name. I gave it to her and she told me to go back to the waiting room. My case would be heard after the young woman whose name was called over the dying intercom just prior to mine. I began to fear the reality that logic didn’t live in this court house. Why would you call two people when there was only room for one?
The spike in adrenaline that was pushed through my nervous system when my name was called had no where to go. I returned as ordered to the waiting room and the adrenaline busied itself by pushing worry in to my head. The “what-if” game began and scenario after scenario played on the back wall of my skull.
“What if the judge denies me access? How many tables can I turn over before being tackled by the bailiff?”
“What if the judge denies me access? How long will they allow me to yell and scream before being tackled by the bailiff?”
Logic, who was sitting in the front row in my head watching these scenarios, screamed for the projector to stop. The “what-if” reel snapped, the lights came on, and the show in my head was over. The adrenaline retreated and the worry was replaced by calm.
A few moment later over the intercom I was asked to return to the court room. I walked in and was told to sit at a table in front of and below the judge who sat in a raised wooden box. Joining me at the table was the CI(court appointed intermediary) who was assigned to my case a few months prior to this hearing as part of this never-ending, logic-lacking process by the court. There was another woman at the table and I assume she represented Wayne County. She introduced herself but my mind was too distracted to hear who she was or how she figured into this process.
“This matter is in regards to the release of information to adoptee Kevin Hofmann. I see you petitioned the court back in 1999 for this same process is that true?”
My mind wanted to get things moving, not review what was tried and failed in the past. I couldn’t see what this had to do with today. The question caught me off guard, but I answered as honestly as I could.
“I have to be honest, this has been a process that has taken 20+ years and couldn’t tell you if I did or did not petition the court in 1999.”
The judge then questioned me again about what I did in 1999 and I again told her I couldn’t remember. She then stated, “Our records show that in 1999 you petitioned the court and then never followed up with it and that is why this matter is closed!”
I’m standing at the table trying to catch logic as it’s swirling around in my head with confusion. I still didn’t understand why this was so important whether I did or didn’t do this back in 1999. I was standing here 12 years later following through with it. The words, “this matter is closed,” sped up the swirling in my head. Was she saying that because I didn’t follow through with this 12 years ago that I was going to be denied?
It was my understanding this matter was closed because Michigan law refuses to release this information. I’m standing there trying to sort all this out but as I looked up at the judge I could see by the way her eyebrows are raised that she is anticipating a response. Again I was confused. She never asked a question, she simply finished her last response with a statement so I wasn’t sure how to answer her. I decided I would respond saying the same thing I have already but in a different way.
“I have done what many adoptees do in their search for this biological connection. I searched for a period and then I would stop. I did this off and on for 20 plus years and in that time I may have petitioned the court but today I can’t remember whether I did or didn’t.”
She didn’t acknowledge nor ignore what I said. She just decided to move on.
“I see you have been in contact with your biological mother is that correct?”
“Yes, and no,” I replied. I was thinking, oh man, I better explain myself or she’s going to think I’m just here to make sure her day is longer than it needs to be.
I immediately continued. “I did find out who my biological mother was in 2009 but I also found out she died in 2003. I was 6 years too late.”
A large part of me wanted to let the court know that because of this ridiculous process I missed the chance of getting to meet my mother. A large part of participating in this court hearing was to let them see what the result is of these stupid out-dated laws. I went in to this process knowing whether I am granted my father’s information or not, I am going to say what I need to say and the court would have to listen.
The emotional grenade I lobbed up to her bench had no effect. She continued without a response or reaction to what I said.
“I see here you also know your father’s first name is that correct?”
“Yes, I found out his name was Lawrence.” I said clearly.
This was another point I wanted to get out. The adoption agency was shifting through my information and randomly deciding what information to give to me and what not to give to me. On several documents, I obtained from the agency, they choose to leave my birth father’s first name in and cross out his last name. I knew this went against what the agency was required by law to do. This was another opportunity to point out how broken this system is and that information that is given or not given is done very randomly.
Still no reaction came from the judge.
“How did you get that information?” She asked.
” It was given to me by the agency.” I said still hoping for a more-than-dead-pan response.
“Really? What do you mean the agency gave you this information?” The judge said now leaning forward in anticipation of my answer.
“When I found out my mother was dead, I ordered her death certificate and then requested the agency release additional information to me about my mother and in that paperwork was my father’s first name with his last name blacked out. I have copies of it here, would you like to see the paperwork?”
“Yes, I would.” The judge stated a little annoyed at what the agency did or failed to do.
I walked forward and gave her my paperwork. She looked it over and then described what it was she was looking at so it was captured in the court record.
I think that agency will be getting a call from the judge in the next few days.
The judge moved forward and directed her conversation to the CI. The CI stood up and said she did gain access into my file and was given father’s full name but because my father’s last name was so common she didn’t think that she would be able to locate him with the limited amount of information she had in the file.
The judge turned to me and said, “In reference to this matter, the court finds in your favor and will release the information to you. Is there anything else, Mr. Hofmann?”
Again, it took me a minute to process what just happened. In my head, someone said, “You won, fool!”
I replied, “No, that is it…Thank you.”
Earlier in the day, on my way to the court hearing I had called a good friend of mine and as we discussed where I was going he asked who the judge was and I told him. Turns out he was in very good standing with the judge and told me to mention his name. He was confident it would gain some favor. During the hearing there was no logical way to work it in and logic should rule over favor everyday of the week at least I hoped.
Having won and now relaxed, as I backed out of the court room, I told the judge a mutual friend said “Hi” and gave his name. The stone-like facade that she carried as a judge melted and for the first time since meeting her I saw a person and not a judge. She was happy to hear from our friend and she became so warm and personable as we volleyed small talk. I thanked her again more sincerely now that I was talking to a person and not a process, and I left her court room.
In the hall the CI waited for me, and she asked some questions, wished me luck, and I think she hoped I would absolve her for her lack of success. I didn’t say much. I don’t hold anything against her, but I also don’t think she was too committed to helping me and I was frustrated by that. We parted at the front door of the Lincoln Hall of Justice and I stepped out in to the cold air anxious to begin the search for the man attached to the last name that will be sent to me in the next week or so.