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Published: Friday, 10/28/2005

Judge rules toddler taken from parents stays in Ohio

NORWALK, Ohio - An 18-month-old girl removed along with 10 other special-needs children from a Clarksfield Township home last month will not be returned to a Chicago-area adoption agency, a Huron County judge ruled yesterday.

During an hourlong hearing in Huron County Common Pleas Court, Judge Timothy Cardwell rejected a motion filed by The Cradle that claimed Illinois jurisdiction over the girl, one of 11 children adopted by Michael and Sharen Gravelle.

All the children were taken from the Gravelles' house Sept. 9 after authorities found wood and wire cages that allegedly were used to house some of the youngsters at night. The youngsters have since been placed in foster homes.

The Huron County Department of Job and Family Services has alleged in court documents that the youngsters, who suffer from such conditions as fetal alcohol syndrome and autism, were abused and neglected or in danger of being mistreated.

The Cradle said in its motion that it was the legal guardian of the girl, and that the Gravelles' adoption of her had not been finalized. The agency, based in Evanston, Ill., placed the girl with the Gravelles in August, 2004, four months after her birth.

"The judge decided that Ohio does have exclusive and original jurisdiction over this child, and denied the motion," Melissa Hipp, the court's chief deputy clerk, said after the hearing, which was not open to the public.

The hearing was attended by the Gravelles, who were accompanied by their Cleveland attorney, Kenneth D. Myers; Columbus attorney Susan Garner Eisenman, who represented The Cradle, and assistant Huron County Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand, who represented the county Department of Job and Family Services.

"I'm thrilled," Mr. Myers said after the hearing. "This was a big, big victory today for the Gravelles because if The Cradle had been successful, not only would there have been a good possibility that the child would have been physically transported out of the area, and possibly to Illinois, but it would have reduced the chances of the Gravelles getting the child back even if they win when the underlying abuse charges come to trial in December."

Ms. DeLand declined to comment on the judge's decision. Ms. Garner Eisenman could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Hipp said the judge's decision means that the 18-month-old girl would be included in a custody hearing scheduled for the Gravelle children on Dec. 6 in Huron County Juvenile Court.

No criminal charges have been filed. Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler said earlier this week that he was awaiting the results of psychological tests on the children before deciding whether to present the case to a grand jury.

The couple, in their first public comments since the children were removed, denied earlier this week that they had harmed the children.

Mr. Gravelle told the Plain Dealer that "enclosures" were used as sleeping quarters, and hat shelves and cupboards in the house were covered with chicken wire to prevent the children from hurting themselves with glass or ingesting various medicines.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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