Judge: Jenny can Live with Hampton Couple
Peter Dujardin, Judge: Jenny can Live with Hampton Couple, Daily Press, August 3, 2013, available at http://articles.dailypress.com/2013-08-03/news/dp-nws-jenny-hatch-ruling-20130802_1_hampton-couple-jim-talbert-talbert-and-morris
Judge says woman with Down syndrome needs a guardian, but defers to Jenny's wishes on who her guardian should be
August 03, 2013|By Peter Dujardin, firstname.lastname@example.org | 757-247-4749
NEWPORT NEWS — A judge on Friday delivered a victory to Margaret "Jenny" Hatch, a local woman with Down syndrome, granting her wish to live with a Hampton couple rather than the group homes she's been living in for the last year.
Newport News Circuit Judge David F. Pugh ruled that Hatch is incapable of being independent and requires a legal guardian for her care, but also that he must consider her wishes in deciding who her guardian should be.
After tense proceedings that lasted more than six days, Pugh granted guardianship over the 29-year-old Hatch to a Hampton couple, Jim Talbert and Kelly Morris. They are the owners of local thrift stores where Jenny has worked, and previously took her into their home.
With his decision, Pugh turned down the petition filed by Hatch's biological mother and stepfather, Julia and Richard Ross, to be Hatch's guardian. The Rosses believe that a Hampton group home is the best place for Jenny to thrive.
Under Pugh's ruling, the guardianship will last a year, during which time Talbert and Morris are required to help Hatch become more independent.
After the hearing, an elated Hatch called Talbert and Morris her "family" and said it was great to be going "home" with them. Later Friday evening, she was to leave the Sarah Bonwell Hudgins home in Hampton and move in with the couple.
"Free at last," Hatch said in the courtroom hallway, surrounded by supporters hanging on her every word. "I'm going home. I'm so happy to be going home today. I deserve to be home. I love my family, I love my friends, and I deserve to be home with them."
Hatch turned to a court-appointed guardian, Clara Swanson, who no longer has to serve in that role, and quipped, "You can relax now."
But the ruling appeared to shock Julia Ross, who walked out of the courtroom staring straight ahead, without saying a word and fighting back tears. "I'm stunned at the judge's decision," said Bob Lindsey, Julia Ross's father and Hatch's grandfather.
A few minutes later, Hatch walked up to Lindsey in the courtroom hallway to hug him, and said, "You should be happy for me, Grandpa." He hugged her back and told her he was.
For their part, Talbert and Morris said they were "ecstatic" with Pugh's decision, saying that when the judge used the word "however" as a key transition more than half way into reading his ruling, they began to realize he was going to rule in their favor.
Talbert and Morris were the couple who initiated the "Justice for Jenny" campaign on the Peninsula to allow Hatch to make her own life decisions — including the decision to live with them.
"We are feeling awesome," Morris said. "It's been every emotion you can think of — sadness, excitement, anger — the whole process taking so long, it's just a whirlwind. We're glad we can relax and go back to our normal lives and have Jenny come back to work ... You can't help but fall in love with her."
Added Talbert: "You get to know Jenny, you just can't help but want to do anything and everything for her. She's my hero."
In his ruling, Pugh didn't give either side exactly what it wanted.
On the issue of whether Hatch is able to make her own decisions, for example, the judge disagreed with Hatch's lawyer, as well as Talbert's and Morris' lawyer, that Hatch needs no guardian at all.
Pugh instead sided with the Rosses and their lawyer, Harold Barton, that Hatch needs more than mere support and assistance at making decisions. On some issues, the judge ruled, Hatch needs to have decisions made for her.
While Hatch "may one day become able to conduct her own affairs," Pugh wrote, "the Court must make its determination based upon the present situation, not what it may speculatively become in the future."
From six days of witness testimony, Pugh said he determined that Hatch still has many shortcomings to becoming fully independent, and noted that he still had not heard directly from Hatch.
Among other things, Pugh said, Hatch has a very hard time managing money; has gotten into two bicycle accidents — one so severe that it required surgery; has been known to get into "dangerous situations" with strangers; and has underdosed and overdosed on her medications.
"She lacks the capacity to meet the essential requirements for health, safety, or therapeutic needs without the assistance of a guardian at this time," the judge said.
Moreover, Pugh commended the Rosses "for their efforts and dedication to date," calling the Rosses "suitable" guardians for Hatch.
"They have served admirably in their role as temporary guardians, and have shown by their actions through every step of this process that they are caring, supportive, and loving parents," Pugh wrote.
But Virginia law, the judge added, requires him "to give due deference to (Hatch's) preferences," he wrote. "And whatever its origin," Hatch's "animus" toward her mother means he "cannot conclude" it's in her best interest to live with the Rosses.