Sunday, August 14, 2005

"Dad loses custody of 8 children"
That was the headline on an AP story out of Richmond in the Wednesday paper. I won't bother Googling up a link because I intend to quote sufficiently to make going to the story unnecessary. And so it begins: "The Virginia Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a judge's decision to terminate the parental rights of a man who kept his eight children isolated in a tiny dilapidated home without electricity or plumbing." Granville Frazier Toms (for that is his name - rather grandiloquent for a low-life son of a bitch methinks) kept his children, well, let me quote again: "Deputies described the Toms residence as a trash-filled, 16-by-16 unfinished structure with no separate rooms. The family used a crude outdoor latrine, and the yard was littered with liquor bottles and beer cans." Oh great. Some low-life, toothless, mouth-breathing, redneck, white trash (I think you get the idea) son of an ape has to do this in the GCoV. Don't get me wrong, what he's done to his children is on a scale cosmically beyond the location of where he did it but the fact that he did in my backyard really makes it personal.
Moving right along: "The family's primitive living conditions came to light when Hanover County sheriff's deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call on Jan. 28, 2003. All but one of the children fled into the woods, without coats or gloves to protect them from near-freezing temperatures. They emerged about eight hours later, at 3:30am, and were taken to a hospital for evaluation." And it gets worse: "Testimony at yesterday's hearing indicated that the children had received no education or health care. They scored below the first percentile on developmental tests and initially communicated with a court-appointed guardian only by grunting and body language."
You might wonder why this state of affairs exists, even after hearing of the litter of alcoholic beverage containers: "Toms suffers from delusional thinking, paranoia, social phobias and other mental health problems, experts testified, along with a history of alcohol abuse dating to age 6."
Age 6. Age 6! Tell me that there's a responsible adult in this family, ever and I won't believe it. No six year old gets into the booze without some adult being aware of it. But that's not living in the now. Whatever happened before, this Toms is responsible for the eight children he provided the genetic material for (I can not bring myself to use the word "fathered"). Which leads me to the first of the two things that made me pick up this story as blogfodder. Can there be any doubt that a judge would terminate Toms's parental rights? No. And law requires that Toms be represented by competent counsel in court proceedings leading to the termination of those rights. But nothing in the canon of ethics requires that the case be pursued to appeal after the judgment is rendered. Toms may want to appeal but a good lawyer would see that real justice has been rendered in the initial ruling and convince his client to cease action. If he persisted, that counsel should have made it clear to Toms that he would continue alone.
Still, it is not outside of the canon of ethics for the lawyer to continue to represent Toms. The real mystery to me, and I'll happily entertain explanations, is how a drunk, delusional, paranoid managed to perpetrate eight children onto the face of Earth. Did one woman drink of his demon seed eight times? Did he charm eight different women into acts of congress, nine months of child-bearing and the pain of the Daughters of Eve? No mention of a mother is made in the article.
I'll put this grotesque episode to rest with one final quote from the article: "The appeals court agreed with (the trial judge) that it was unlikely Toms could remedy the problems quickly enough to be able to provide the children a decent home life. 'Toms' (sic) life has been badly scarred by destructive patterns of alcohol abuse and debilitating bouts of mental illness,' Judge D. Arthur Kelsey wrote in the unanimous opinion. 'The long-standing conditions go back to his childhood and cannot be explained away as recent, readily-correctable maladies. And they were severe enough to cause Toms to cloister his children in inhumane living conditions, to deprive them of routine medical care and to do nothing to stop the steep regression in their developmental skills.' The court ruled that officials were not legally required to try to rehabilitate Toms before terminating his rights if they determined reunification would jeopardize the health and safety of the children."
I will try to believe that a destructive spiral has been arrested by humane, intelligent action of the court. Only one thing is certain - there are eight children in the custody of the Commonwealth who need our prayers.

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