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Utah Supreme Court rules in favor of birth father

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ramsey Shaud has never met his 2-year-old daughter, and doesn't even know where she lives, but a recent ruling from the Utah Supreme Court opens the door for him to fight to get her back from her adoptive parents.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled 3-2 to overturn a lower court decision that found the 26-year-old Florida man had submitted his paperwork too late to stop the child's birth mother from giving her up for adoption in January 2010.

Raising the question of whether Utah's Vital Records office was negligent in failing to record his petition in a timely manner, the Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to determine if paperwork was turned in before the adoption.

Shasta Tew, the birth mother, is not involved in the legal case.

If Shaud gets past that next step, he plans to battle in lower courts for custody of a toddler he knows nothing about but thinks about constantly. He's never even seen a picture of her.

"I've spent many nights wondering where she is, who has her, is she OK, How is she being raised?" Shaud said.

The attorney representing A Act of Love adoption agency, Larry Jenkins, said the adoptive parents are disappointed in the court's decision but still hopeful. He declined to disclose where the adoptive parents live, citing privacy concerns.

Shaud's attorney, Daniel Drage, believes the state's then four-day workweek caused the delay in getting his client's claim into the state system. The birth of the baby girl was sandwiched between a Friday in which offices were closed and a Monday that was a federal holiday.

Shaud's paperwork appeared in Utah's state registry 45 minutes after state officials gave the green light for the adoption to move forward, the Supreme Court found. The petition had been filed the week before, Drage said. The baby was born a month prematurely, shortening the time for the adoption to be considered.

"If they were open, somebody would have caught it sooner," Drage said.

Under then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, Utah launched a four-day work week for state employees in 2008. But lawmakers scratched the experiment two years later, saying it was not saving as much money as hoped and that residents were complaining about not having access to services on Fridays.

Both Shaud and Tew are from Florida, but the case is playing out in Utah courts because the baby was born in the state. Shaud had already taken steps to protect his parental rights in Florida and Arizona prior to doing the same in Utah after he learned Tew was headed that way.

If the court finds Shaud got his paperwork in on time, then his fitness as a parent will be judged, Jenkins said. If he passes that determination, the case would go to a custody hearing where the court determines what's best for the child, Jenkins said.

But Drage has a different assessment. He says that if the court determines his client got the paperwork in on time, the adoption becomes void and the custody decision would be between Shaud and Tew.

Shaud, who has no other children, is prepared to defend his parenting credentials in court. He works for a mechanical and electrical contractor and says he is studying to go to law school. He is accused in a Florida domestic violence case of assaulting a woman but said he is innocent.

Though he knows he faces a challenge in the courts, he's confident he will someday be able to raise his daughter, who will turn 3 in January.

"She is half of me and from the moment that I knew she was conceived I wanted to be her dad," Shaud said. "I know they may love her, but the love I have for my child is the greatest."

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