By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Courtrooms rarely celebrate anything other than putting forth justice, but it was a gloriously happy day in Superior Court 1 in Kosciusko County on Friday afternoon, May 13.
Superior 1 Court Judge Karin McGrath has presided over about ten adoption cases in her first year on the bench, but nothing like this, she said.
A final adoption hearing for Summer, an 8-year-old girl who has spent half of her life in foster care, turned into a celebration Friday with the support of her new big family and her second-grade classmates from Community Baptist Christian School in South Bend who were there to show support.
Grant Kirsh, the family’s attorney, appeared to be as sharp as he was festive. He brought his wife to the hearing along with about 30 red balloons used as leverage in hopes of encouraging the youngsters to be quiet and attentive during the hearing. It worked well.
“My law firm does about 700 adoptions a year and this is the first time I’ve ever had an entire classroom show up for an adoption,” Kirsh said. “It’s pretty special.”
McGrath relaxed circumstances for the event and even allowed cameras in the courtroom for media and others.
The hearing served as an attempt to make sure the family and Summer understand the depth of what was happening.
At one point, the judge turned to the family and asked for somebody to vouch for Kevin and Susan Smithberger, who have six biological children of their own.
Grace Linhart, seated with her brothers and sisters in the jury box, spoke up, saying her parents were loving and supportive people.
“We love them all for it and we know Summer will be an amazing addition to the family,” Linhart said as she choked back tears.
McGrath asked the girl if she thinks the Smithbergers will be a good mom and dad.
“Of course they will,” Summer shouted, prompting an outburst of laughs in the courtroom.
She added, “Both of them and all of my brothers and sisters know what’s best for me.”
McGrath said afterward it was the happiest moment she’s witnessed in a courtroom.
“It’s been a long road for Summer to get to this point,” McGrath said. “A lot of people … really wrapped around this child to get her to the point where she’s in this perfect place.”
Summer was removed from her biological parents by the Indiana Department of Children Services and placed into the foster care system about four years ago. She had previously lived in five different foster homes.
The case was heard in Warsaw where the DCS case originated.
Susan Smithberger described Summer as ”a very cheerful, happy little girl” who was especially excited about Friday’s hearing.
She’s adjusted as well as possible considering what she’s gone through, Susan said.
The Smithbergers had been trying to adopt a child for two years and had all but given up with they got a call from a friend who had served as Summer’s life coach.
The family first met Summer in October of 2020 at a park in Plymouth during the pandemic.
Susan said she and Kevin talked and prayed about the idea of adopting Summer for a few weeks.
“When we said yes to taking her into our household, we said yes to adopting her,” she said.