The news story bewildered Sue Schilling, a Brigantine city councilwoman and adoptive mother.

A woman in Atlantic City had sued the state for $1 million for allegedly revealing her identity to the daughter she surrendered for adoption 30 years ago.

Schilling is a proponent of unconditional birth certificate access for adopted New Jersey residents, which would include the name of the birth parents. However, the state has no such provision now, so Schilling could not believe that the family information could have slipped through without mutual consent.

"I consider us very lucky that we were able to get so much" medical history from her daughter's birth relatives, Schilling said. "I have no clue how this thing that's going on now reached that point."

And as a parent who witnessed her daughter's "very positive" reconnection with her birth parents, she could not relate to the plaintiff's anguish.

The plaintiff's attorney, Matthew Weisberg, said he could not believe how much attention the case attracted after the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on June 18. He primarily fields cases of individual and consumer rights, but he never handled what he called "an adoption civil-rights case" before.

"Since then, I have received a lot of e-mails and now understand that it's a very polar issue," Weisberg said.

Though even supporters of privacy for birth parents acknowledge that adoption regulations are trending more toward openness, the adoptee-rights lobby Bastard Nation commends only six of the 50 states for granting adoptees unrestricted access to their birth certificates and medical records.

New Jersey is not among them.

"I'm just really puzzled by the whole story because I know people from New Jersey who have tried for years and years to get information and can't get anywhere," said Marley Greiner, Bastard Nation's executive chair.

Various state legislators have tried for years to pass bill that increase adoptees' access to their records.

A measure sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, which would provide adoptees' their medical history without revealing their parents' names, is lodged in committee. She said Sunday she hopes for it to get attention in the fall after larger issues such as the budget fracas have subsided.

Asked why the issue has not gotten more traction in the past, the senator replied, "Issues involving families are always a challenge. There are usually emotional feelings surrounding them."

Bastard Nation and other adoptee-rights lobbies have fought compromise measures such as Weinberg's. The National Council for Adoption is pro-privacy but recognizes the changing landscape.

"In today's practice, most adoptions have some kind of openness component, so there's already some kind of relationship established," said council Vice President Chuck Johnson, who is both an adopted son and an adoptive father.

"I understand the importance of health background. ... But I do think an injustice was done" to Weisberg's client, Johnson said.

More than 30 years ago, the plaintiff - whose name The Press of Atlantic City is withholding-gave birth to a baby girl conceived by rape, according to the lawsuit. She yielded the child to adoption and wanted no further contact with her, an arrangement she assumed the state would preserve.

The woman did not respond in August when the state informed her that someone who had been adopted sought information about her. Her purported daughter got her name and address anyway, and visited the plaintiff's Atlantic City home in December.

The plaintiff became upset and is suing on the basis of privacy violation and emotional distress, according to the lawsuit.

"This woman had a responsibility. If she did not want this information released, she should have replied to that letter. Ethically, she should have," Greiner said.

The state Attorney General's Office has not commented on how DYFS handled that case.

Schilling said her adopted daughter always wanted information on her birth parents.

In that case, the agency's letter to the birth father was promptly met with a positive response, and the exchange of medical history helped Schilling's daughter when she gave birth to her own daughter.

Weisberg expects the state to pursue dismissal of his client's lawsuit and for the case to proceed further, perhaps with a hearing in three months.

The lawyer did not know how long the meeting between his client and her daughter lasted. But he is all but certain no second meeting was arranged.

"There's always exceptions and perhaps extenuating circumstances, nothing is ever 100 percent and every case would be different," Schilling said. Though she still sees more positives than negatives in opening up adoption records, "this one is obviously very unfortunate."


New Jersey Bill S2263:

National Council for Adoption:

Bastard Nation:

E-mail Eric Scott Campbell: