An Orange County woman whose adoption of a 2-year-old girl was blocked by the child's father in Ohio was ordered by a local judge Friday to give up the toddler in two weeks, but vowed to immediately appeal the order.
Stacey Doss of Orange County is attempting to retain custody of Vanessa, a 2-year-old girl she's raised since birth. Doss, who is single, started the adoption process in June 2008 after Vanessa's birth in Dayton, Ohio.
Vanessa's father, Benjamin Mills Jr., who lives in Ohio, is challenging the adoption.
Last week, an Ohio judge ruled that Vanessa should be returned to Montgomery County, Ohio, where she would be placed in foster care until officials sort out with whom she should be placed, Doss said.
On Friday after a closed-door conference call among the judges, Doss emerged from the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange and told reporters she was instructed to give up the child by July 16 so she can be returned to Ohio.
Doss said it's likely her foster daughter will be placed with Mills' mother, who has custody of two of his other children. In the meantime, Mills was granted nightly visits with Vanessa, she said.
"The California court has passed the buck and given the entire case to Ohio," Doss said. "The court chose July 16th to give us time to file with the Court of Appeals in California. I only have until July 16th to save my daughter."
Two psychiatric experts have prepared reports for Doss, concluding that such a move would be a mistake, Doss said.
"This will break this child's heart and spirit and she will not recover," Doss said.
Vanessa's maternal grandparents, Pam and Darrel Conley, of Dayton, spoke to NBCLA on Friday, saying "we want to do anything to help Stacey keep Vanessa."
Pam Conley said Mills is "not fit to raise anyone."
"He's a terrible man with a long history of violence," she said. "He about beat my daughter to death a few years ago."
Darrel Conley said his daughter gave up Vanessa because she felt it was the right thing to do: "She could not raise Vanessa. It was the best thing she could do for Vanessa."
"My daughter didn't want Benjamin to raise her because he's an unfit father," Darrel Conley said.
As for Mills' mother, who is raising Vanessa's biological siblings, Pam Conley said "the children have good opportunities with her."
Doss plans to file an immediate appeal. Her voice breaking and her eyes welling with tears, she vowed Friday to fight for custody "until I die."
Doss' mother, who attended the closed hearing, called Judge Michael Naughton's ruling "immoral and unjust."
Carolyn Doss said it "gives us the determination to fight harder ... We're going to work harder and harder than we ever have."
Patricia J. Robb of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, which is representing Mills, declined to discuss the details of the case before Friday's proceedings.
Case Background: DNA Test Marks Beginning of Battle
Doss said she tried for years to become pregnant, but several fertility treatments failed.
"When I got divorced, someone said, 'Gosh, you've wanted it so long, why don't you consider adopting as a single mother?'" Doss said.
Doss, 45, signed up with adoption agencies, and after several discussions with pregnant women did not seem like the right fit, she was introduced to Vanessa's mother in Ohio.
"The birth mother said she got pregnant after a one-night stand," said Doss. "After Vanessa was born, she also signed a document, under penalty of perjury stating she didn't know who the birth father was."
But the birth mother wasn't telling the truth. Several days after taking custody of Vanessa, Doss received shocking news.
"I didn't know anything at the time, but I learned later that the birth father showed up at the hospital," said Doss. "I had no idea that he was in fact the birth father until DNA tests came back positive four months later."
By that time, mother and daughter were living in Orange County. The DNA test also marked the beginning of a long, strenuous and expensive legal battle for Vanessa.
Mills and the birth mother have had a "contentious relationship,'' including several restraining orders against each other and a prison record for Mills for domestic violence, according to Doss, who has cited court records.
Doss also claims Mills has relinquished custody of two daughters to his mother.
Doss flew Mills to California in September to visit with Vanessa, and in the hope she could negotiate a settlement of the dispute. Mills returned to Orange County earlier this month for a supervised visit with his daughter, Doss said.
"Mr. Mills recognizes how emotional this case has become," said his attorney, Elizabeth Gorman, who works for a non-profit law firm called Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
Mills said the birth mother lied to him about her pregnancy. He thought she was going to keep the baby and he did not know of her plans to put Vanessa up for adoption.