The adopted daughter of state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite says her mother is using her power to influence a custody dispute.
By DAN DeWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001
INVERNESS -- In a March debate about an adoption bill, state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite spoke proudly about her daughter, whom she adopted as an 11-year-old.
Her daughter, Jeannine Bradford, had been abused in foster homes, Brown-Waite said, but had rebounded to become the married mother of two.
On Tuesday, however, Brown-Waite and Bradford were entangled in a messy dispute over Bradford's young sons that came before a Citrus County judge.
Bradford, who formally agreed to give the young children up for adoption 11 days ago, changed her mind this week. She accused Brown-Waite of forcing her into the original decision to give up her children. And, once she changed her mind, Bradford said, Brown-Waite used her political weight to take the children from the home of Bradford's biological mother in Inverness, where they have lived since February.
"I find this very astounding, that my own mother could try to rip my children from my arms," Bradford, 22, a student at a federal job training program in Kentucky, said in a telephone interview.
Brown-Waite, a Brooksville Republican, said she had no part in attempting to remove the children. She said she did not make the call to an abuse hotline that led to the children being removed from the home.
She also said she never tried to force Bradford to give up her sons, aged 2 and 3.
"I did tell her she might consider putting up the kids for adoption," Brown-Waite told County Judge Mark Yerman.
"Jeannine was, up until this past Monday, absolutely adamant about getting these kids away from Florence" Moore, Bradford's biological mother, Brown-Waite said.
Bradford changed her mind, Brown-Waite said, because she was embarrassed she had been caught in a lie. On Monday she had told Brown-Waite she had cancer of the jaw; the next day a nurse told Brown-Waite that Bradford actually had a less serious gum disease.
"Jeannine's a pathological liar," Brown-Waite said.
Bradford, Moore and a friend who accompanied her to the courthouse, Shannon Lockhart, cited several reasons why they believed Brown-Waite made the call to the abuse hotline and was given special treatment.
The DCF investigator who removed the children Wednesday night told them she was from Hernando County, the call came from Hernando County and the caller provided detailed information about the family.
"And the only person they know in Hernando County is Ginny Brown-Waite," Lockhart said.
Pat Howard, the Department of Children and Families District 13 administrator, said he could not comment directly about the case.
But generally, he said, "We have a service center in each county and normally someone from within the county" would handle such a call.
But out-of-county workers do sometimes take over cases, he said, usually when DCF workers have a personal relationship with the families they are asked to investigate.
He also said that any time a credible complaint is registered with the hotline, his department removes the children. It is up to a judge to decide whether the removal is permanent in hearings that must be held within 24 hours.
At the hearing, Mary Kaczmarek, a counselor with the department, told Yerman the two boys had been removed from Moore's home because Moore had previously had children removed from her home and because she had a history of mental illness.
Once Yerman began asking questions, though, nobody seemed to object to Moore and her husband, John, keeping the children.
Brown-Waite said her schedule would not allow her to take the kids. Her daughter, connected to the courtroom by speaker phone, said she could not because she has little money, is separated from her husband and lives in a dorm.
Florence Moore told the judge she had given up Jeannine 19 years ago, but only because both had suffered at the hands of her abusive ex-husband. Her mental illness, she said, was also caused by her long history of abuse.
A representative from a University of Florida abuse prevention program had visited the family regularly during the last few months and given positive reports, Kaczmarek said.
"They are decent hardworking people," Brown-Waite said near the end of the hearing.
"Ginny, thank you," Moore said as Brown-Waite left the courtroom.