Fritts v. Krugh

Decision Date13 October 1958
Docket NumberNo. 53,53
Citation92 N.W.2d 604,354 Mich. 97
PartiesDoyle A. FRITTS, Sr., and Lileth Marie Fritts, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. Jack H. KRUGH, Marguerite Krugh, Dale Wells Graham and Inez Gertrude Graham, Defendants and Appellants.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Gore & Williams, Benton Harbor, for defendants-appellants.

Arthur E. Leckner, Benton Harbor, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before the Entire Bench.

EDWARDS, Justice.

'A judge agonizes more about reaching the right result in a contested custody issue than about any other type of decision he renders.' 1

With some significant exceptions, this is a companion case to that of Harmsen v. Fizzell, 351 Mich. 86, 87 N.W.2d 161, rehearing granted March 4, 1958, in which this Court dealt with a petition for writ of habeas corpus in relation to two children, heard before and granted by the same circuit judge because of procedural errors claimed to have been made by the same probate judge.

In this case, too, the circuit judge, after the hearing on the writ of habeas corpus, entered orders which would have the effect of removing two children from proposed adoptive homes where they had been placed by probate court authority and returning them to parental custody. The foster parents with whom the children have lived most of their lives to date appeal.

This story starts with the somewhat abrupt abandonment of a minor mother and two small children by her husband in July of 1952. The mother tells the story simply:

'My name is Lileth Fritts, and the wife of Doyle Fritts. I am the mother of Sally and Doyle Fritts, the children involved in this case. Sally was born December 19, 1949. Doyle was born December 17, 1951. I am 24. * * *

'Q. What is that date of your birth? A. July 25, 1931.

* * *

* * *

'Q. Directing your attention to the first day of July, 1952, where were you living? A. Watervliet.

'Q. Michigan? A. Yes.

'Q. And prior to that date was your husband living with you? A. No.

'Q. Prior to July 1 was he living with you? A. No.

'Q. Did he leave you sometime before that date that you called here at the Juvenile Division of the Probate Court? A. Yes, he left.

'Q. And was that the result of some argument you had there? A. Yes.

'Q. And how long had he been away before you came down here? A. About 2 weeks.

'Q. And during that time did you have Doyle and Sally with you? A. Yes. I heard from him within the 2 weeks. I knew where he went. He want to Bald Knob, Arkansas. He had relatives there. His mother and father. To locate him I wrote his mother immediately. I had $20 while he was away. My husband gave it to me before he left.

'Q. Did you have an argument before he left? A. Yes.

'Q. And did he tell you where he was going? A. No 'Q. Did he send you any money within that 2 weeks? A. No.

'Do you remember telling the person in charge of the Juvenile Division of the Court that you had no milk for your children? A. Yes.

'Q. Tell the court something about that. A. Well, I went to the law.

'Q. You mean the police? A. Yes.

'Q. Go on. A. And asked them to give me some milk and some money, but my husband paid it back.

'Q. Did the police at Watervliet give you some money? A. Yes.

'Q. And your husband paid them back? A. Yes.

'Q. Did you come down to the Juvenile Court alone? A. Yes.

'Q. And what happened when you went to the Juvenile Court? A. Well, I just went in and told Mrs. Malcolm that I wanted to put my children up for adoption; that I couldn't take care of them.

'Q. And did you sign anything that day? A. Yes, I signed 1 paper she made out for the children.

'Q. You signed a paper who made out? A. Mrs. Malcolm. I think that's what her name is.

'Q. The judge's name is Malcolm Hatfield; his wife is Mrs. Malcolm Hatfield. Are you talking about her, or are you talking about Mrs. Milton? A. Yes, Mrs. Milton.

'Q. Let the record show that. I have in my hands a file of the Juvenile Division of the Probate Court for Berrien County, which is in evidence, and on top show you a paper and ask you if your signature appears on that paper? A. Yes.

'Q. Is that the paper you refer to when you say you signed a paper? A. Yes.

'Q. Did you read all this before you signed it? A. Yes.

'Q. And that is what you told Mrs. Milton? A. Yes.

'Q. Where were your children that day? A. They was with my sister.

'Q. You left them with your sister? A. Yes.

'Q. Did you have occasion to go to court later? A. Yes.

'Q. How many days later? A. I went 2 days later.

'Q. What was the purpose of that call? A. The same thing. I wanted to see if they was going to put them up for adoption. I knew I couldn't take care of them.

'Q. You asked them that? A. Yes. They told me they wanted me to sign adoption papers for the children. Two days later I signed another paper, 1 in front of Judge Hatfield, the adoption paper he wanted me to sign. This is the paper. I am speaking of, where I asked for the appointment of Hazel Wallsmith as guardian ad litem. That was what I signed that day. I signed the 1 in front of Judge Hatfield, July 3d. These 2. I told them how old I was.

'Q. Now, I show you another paper in this file which bears the signature of Lileth Marie Fritts and ask you if your signature appears on this paper which I will read. A. Yes.

'Q. (Reading): 'The undersigned being the mother of the said legitimate minor child and having legal authority to make and execute this consent, do hereby consent to the adoption of said child and the change of name of said child, as prayed for in petition of said court.' Did you sign that?

'The Court: What is the date of that?

'Mr. Leckner: The date is July 2, 1952; and that has to do with Doyle and you signed another just like it for Sally? A. That's right, signed for both. Hazel Wallsmith signed that at the same time. I left Watervliet and went to my sister's after the 1st of July. I stayed there a day after he left and I stayed with her until I went back to my husband. I went back to him about 2 weeks after I gave my children up. I brought my children down here and I went to Wichita, Kansas. My husband was there.'

The sworn petition signed by the mother on July 1, 1952, served to place most of these facts before the probate court:

'State of Michigan,

'Cause No. .....

'The Probate Court for the County of Berrien

Juvenile Division.

'In the Matter of the Petition Concerning Sally Ann Fritts

Doyle Almo Fritts, Jr. Minor.

'I, Lilith Marie Fritts, respectfully represent that I reside in the U. S. 12 2nd house from Long's Television of Watervliet in said County, and make this petition as mother

'I further represent that said children are residents of Watervliet in Berrien County, and is now residing with and under the custody and control of mother, and father and ..... was born on

Sally, was born Dec. 19, 1949

Doyle '17, 1950

'I further represent upon information and belief that said children's father had quit his job. He has told me that he doesn't want his children. He drings continually and beats me up which frightens the children. The father of these children said he was going to Bald Knob, Arkansas, c/o with Mr. and Mrs. Lester Fritts I had to appeal to the police at Coloma last week for milk for the Chilren 'I would like to put the children in an adoptive home where they will be well cared for.

'I further represent that the names, relationship, ages and residences of nearest of kin and guardian of said child . . ., as I am informed and believe, are as follows:

                ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                         Name           Relationship  Age          Residence
                ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Last known Probable
                Doyle Almo Fritts, Sr.     father          Address: Bald Knob, Ark
                                                           c/o Lester Fritts
                                                           going to live with Frances
                                           mother          Bridgman, Chicago Ave. Bus
                Lilith Marie Fritts       (Winans          Benton Harbor or to
                                            Ave)           New Carlyle, Ind. c/o
                                                             Mrs Wm. Webb
                ---------------------------------------------------------------------
                

'I therefore, pray that the Juvenile Court take jurisdiction of said child.

'/S/ Mrs. Doyle Fritts

'P. O. Lilith Marie Fritts' It appears clear, however, that prior to hearing upon this petition the mother rejoined her husband at his former home in Bald Knob, Arkansas, and that they then determined to seek return of their children. On receipt of notice of hearing on the adoption petition, the father wrote the probate judge:

'7-22-52

'Mrs. Malcolm Hatfield

'I am writing to you regarding my children Sally Ann Doyle Jr. Me and my wife have talk things over we have decided to make a home for are children. Wish to know if we could get them before the 4th of August. If so write and let me know soon.

'Your Truly

'Doyle Fritts

'My and----

'Doyle Fritts

'5247 N. Arkansas St. 'Wichita, Kansas.'

And when the hearing date of August 4, 1952, arrived, Mr. and Mrs. Fritts and her mother were in the courtroom. Mr. Fritts' version of that hearing is as follows:

'After I wrote this letter to the Probate Judge I came to St. Joseph. I appeared in the Judge's office on August 4th. The Judge wrote to me and told me when the hearing would be held, so I was here. There was no stenographer in the Judge's office when I appeared. There was no lawyer representing me. Nobody suggested to me that I get a lawyer. I was not sworn. My wife was not sworn. No one was sworn. I said there was no stenographer there.

'Q. Tell us what happened when you were in the room there? A Mrs. Milton read the copy of the paper she had there, and when she got through reading it the Judge told us within, after 6 months time, if we got along good, he would see that we got the kids back.'

The report read by the county agent, Mrs....

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