SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah judge has refused to stay his decision ordering the adoptive parents of a 22-month-old girl to give her to the biological father.
Fourth District Judge Darold McDade on Friday also left intact a Jan. 16 deadline for the couple, Jared and Kristi Frei, to give the child up to her father, Terry Achane of South Carolina.
Attorney Lance Rich, who represents the Freis, told The Salt Lake Tribune that they'll ask the Utah Court of Appeals to issue a stay while they appeal McDade's rulings.
The Freis, who live in a Provo suburb, legally adopted the child through an agency in 2010 and have raised her since she was born. They have four biological children and two adopted children, including Leah.
Achane, an Army drill sergeant stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, says his wife at the time, Tira Bland, traveled from their Texas home while he was away on military service and gave birth in Utah. She placed the daughter for adoption in Utah without his knowledge or consent, he says. The two divorced in March 2012.
The Freis declined to comment after Friday's hearing. Achane, who named his daughter Teleah, was unable to travel to Utah for the hearing.
His lawyer, Scott Wiser, said the parties would discuss visitation and the reunification process while they wait to see what the Court of Appeals decides.
"It's a very weighty issue for the judge," Wiser told The Tribune. "It's a difficult human case and (the judge) is trying to do the best he can with the arguments out there, the rights of the parties and what's best for Teleah.
"The Freis have been wonderful parents, but the bottom line is he (Achane) has a fundamental right protected by the Constitution — one of the oldest rights we have — to raise his own daughter, and the law respects that," he added.
In December, McDade issued a 48-page ruling admonishing the Freis and the Adoption Center of Choice for ignoring Achane once he stepped forward as the child's legally recognized father. The judge wrote that they should have then arranged to return the girl to Achane.