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Mother gets to keep children

A judge on Thursday ruled that Darcy Akers Ball can keep her three young children because a Tampa lawyer misled her when he had her sign adoption papers in his van in her driveway.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Bonnie Newton said Gregory Boyer didn't explain Ball's rights, didn't give her time to read the papers and didn't ask if she was sure about her decision.

"In his anxiousness to get three children to strangers who he thought would be better parents, he (Boyer) was not honest, respectful or professional," Newton said.

Ball, 23, testified she thought she had no choice the rainy Saturday morning Boyer showed up because she was under the impression her estranged husband, Joshua Ball, already had signed.

"He told me Joshua had already signed the papers and it would be in my best interest to sign," Darcy Ball testified. "I never made plans for this. This was all worked around me."

Newton already had ordered on Oct. 9 that the three children _ Lauren, 5, Brandon, 3, and Vanessa, 1 _ be returned to Darcy Ball. They had spent about a week at the house of adoptive parents in Tampa after Ball signed the consent papers on Sept. 27.

Boyer said he plans to appeal the case, not so much because of the children, but because he is concerned the ruling will affect his reputation.

"I'm concerned about what she (Newton) specifically said about me," Boyer said.

For much of their young lives, the three children have lived at the home of Ball's mother-in-law, Teri Linge. Darcy and Joshua Ball often were unemployed, had little means to care for the children and in recent years had severe marital difficulties. Ball testified that Joshua Ball often wasn't around to help with the children and that she was overwhelmed.

B. Larry "Snuffy" Smith, who represented Boyer, tried to show that Ball, in fact, wanted to give up her children because she had signed several papers granting temporary custody to her mother-in-law, Linge.

But with Linge on the stand, Ball's attorney, Sarah M. Chaves, asked, "There's a big difference between asking the grandparents to take care of the children for a temporary period of time and giving them up for adoption permanently, right?"

Linge paused before answering, "Yes."

Ball said she signed the papers at Linge's insistence and to make sure the children would be able to get medical help if something happened to them.

Linge herself at one point could not care for all the children either and gave the youngest, Vanessa, to John Hatcherian, a member of a St. Petersburg congregation that had been helping the young couple. Hatcherian said the subject of adoption came up during a meeting with the young couple, the pastor and the Linges.

Joshua Ball continued to discuss adoption with the pastor. He testified last week that he remembers his wife telling him several times she didn't want to lose the kids and she wasn't sure.

Ball and other witnesses said the signing of the adoption papers in Ball's driveway took no longer than 20 minutes. The setting and the speed of the transaction helped make it a coercive situation, Newton said.

"The lack of disclosure of crucial information about her options left Darcy Ball uninformed or misled," Newton said.