PHOENIX, AZ — It's not often a State Supreme Court Justice listens to criticism about a decade old opinion she wrote as an appellate judge. But it happened Wednesday at the Arizona Judicial Commission hearing at the State Supreme Court.
In 2007, Vice Chief Justice Ann Timmer wrote the opinion for an unanimous decision to allow Paul Petersen to proceed with an arranged adoption of a Marshallese baby. The ruling paved the way for Petersen to set up an adoption pipeline, which federal and state prosecutors say amounted to human smuggling and the sale of children.
Until federal and state law enforcement shut his adoption business down in October, Petersen spent years arranging adoptions involving Marshallese mothers and willing families in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas.
"That was a mistake. It was a very big mistake to let Petersen just slide," Malinda Sherwyn told Timmer and the other members of the Judicial Commission, which includes Arizona Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel.
Sherwyn is part of the grassroots organization AZ DCS Oversight Group. It wants the Arizona Judicial Commission to review every Petersen adoption case to see it was legal.
"In spite of Justice Timmer's huge mistake, that did not give all the other judges carte blanche to go ahead and keep signing off on the unlawful adoptions," Lori Ford, another member AZ DCS Oversight Group, told the commission.
In her opinion, Justice Timmer said the adoption was in the best interests of the child. She agreed with Petersen's assertion that the lower court failed to follow Arizona law by violating the child's equal protection rights by denying the adoption on alleged violations of foreign laws. One of the charges Petersen faces is violating those foreign laws.
"We are really wondering what is gonna be done to these judges. Are they going to be held accountable for these unlawful adoptions that they signed off on?" Ford asked.
Because the Petersen adoptions were raised during public comments, none of the Commissioners could offer a response to Ford.
Justice Timmer declined to comment on her ruling.