Couple Wins Custody of Jenny Hatch

The custody battle of a 29-year-old woman with Down Syndrome came to an end Friday afternoon.

Jenny Hatch has been in and out of court for months, fighting to live with her friends, couple Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, instead of at a group home. Friday a judge granted that wish and gave the couple custody of Jenny for the next year.

The verdict was revealed in a Newport News courtroom a little before 4 p.m. Full guardianship of Jenny was taken away from her mother, Julia Ross, who wanted Jenny to live in a group home. After a year under the guardianship of Morris and Talbert, Jenny will be able to make her own decisions.

Morris and Talbert have a history of caring for Jenny, and say they will gladly take her in.

“It’s awesome. We’re ecstatic,” said Morris. “At first, I thought it wasn’t going in our favor, but then the judge said ‘however.’ It brought up a glimmer of hope. We’re ecstatic.”

10 On Your Side tried to talk to Jenny’s mother after the verdict, but she snuck out the back of the courthouse with deputy escorts. Jenny’s father, Richard Hatch, did take a moment to talk about the end of the guardianship battle.

“It’s a relief that this chapter is over. Maybe Jenny can get back some normalcy,” Hatch said. “It’s not what we expected. We’ll deal with it.”

Jenny’s fight to live with her friends drew national attention on the rights for people with disabilities. That’s why Jenny’s lawyer Jonathan Martinis says he fought so hard for her.

“This is for everybody who has ever been denied something or ever been told they can’t do something. I give you Jenny Hatch,” Martinis said. “The rock that starts the avalanche.”

Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union sent a statement to on Friday’s verdict.

“This decision is a big step in the right direction. Like most people with developmental disabilities – and just like all of us – Jenny will learn, grow, and live best when she has the freedom and responsibility to make her own decisions,” Mizner said. “Guardianship raises grave concerns because it strips people of their fundamental right to live with independence, freedom and dignity. Disability is no excuse to deprive someone of her basic civil liberties, and we are thrilled that Jenny will get some control of her life back.”

After a year of fighting in court, Jenny finally gets to go home with her friends Jim and Kelly.

“Right now I can get back to my thrift store,” Jenny said. “I miss you all at Jewish family services.
I love y’all, but I have to go back to my own life with Jim and Kelly.”

Date: Friday, August 2, 2013
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Authors: Andy Fox