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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

Ohio Supreme Court hears challenge to removal of children


COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday stepped into a battle between Lucas County child protection officials and a family with a diagnosed pedophile living in its midst.

But while the father of two young children served prison time 17 years ago for abusing young boys, it's never been shown that he has harmed his own children.

That has raised the question of whether the county overstepped its authority when it permanently removed the kids from the home after the mother refused to divorce or separate from the father.

"I seems that I'm hearing an advocacy that a certain type of mental illness is going to preclude an individual from child rearing," Justice Judith Lanzinger told Dianne L. Keeler, attorney for the Lucas County Children Services Board.

"I believe there are aspects of that because of the nature of the mental illness itself," said Ms. Keeler.

The case was initiated when children services investigated a report of apparent shaken baby syndrome in 2005 involving the man's infant son, but the investigation did not reveal whether he or another member of the family was responsible.

During the investigation, it was discovered that the father, at the age of 19, had been convicted of three felonies related to the sexual abuse of two young boys that he babysat but was not related to. The agency took custody of the infant son and his sister

The mother successfully completed counseling aimed at ultimately reuniting her with her children, but she rejected the agency's suggestion that she divorce her husband or live separately from him. Juvenile court subsequently granted permanent custody to the agency, a decision later upheld by the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals.

For purposes of confidentiality, court documents and yesterday's open court arguments referred to the children and their parents only by their first names and last initial.

"There is absolutely no evidence that the father engaged in any type of criminal activity against children since 1990," said the family's Toledo attorney, Thomas A. Sobecki. He noted that one diagnostic test suggested that his probability of re-offending within five years was moderate to low.

Ms. Keeler, however, noted that the father chose to become involved with and marry a woman who had an autistic son. She said it would be practically impossible for a wife to constantly supervise her husband's interaction with their children while they live together.

"How can a man who is a pedophile, who is supposed to refrain from being around children, supposed to refrain from the usual task of bathing, dressing, going to school events, and going to baseball and soccer practice?" she asked. "This is a man who cannot do that according to his therapist, because every time he goes near children his risk of re-offending becomes significantly higher."

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