INFANT DIES: Adoptive Parents Consider Options

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An adoptive couple says their son would still be alive today if their lawyer had done his job. Now they’re weighing up their options.

On Tuesday night, four-month-old Gabriel McFarland died in his biological father’s care. The 17-year-old father is now facing neglect charges.

Heidi McFarland doesn’t know what she will do next. The baby she and her wife, Rachel, were trying to adopt was taken back by the biological mother 10 weeks after they believed they had custody.

Baby Gabriel, was found dead less than a month later.

The McFarlands believe if their lawyer, Jason Rieper, had filed paperwork terminating the biological mother’s rights in a timely fashion, Gabriel would still be alive.

Drake legal clinic executive director Jerry Foxhaven says Rieper should have filed that paperwork immediately.

“You get a consent from the parents to release custody and to give it after a very short period of time you can’t revoke it except for good cause. You know that you can’t adopt until you terminate the parental rights. You do that with the consent of everybody. And then get on with the adoption,” Foxhoven says. “Delay isn’t helpful to anybody.”

While the state bar association says lawyers have to act with diligence and promptness with their clients cases, chances are Reiper will not be disbarred or sanctioned for what appears to be poor handling of the case.

According to online court records, he was charged in 2001 with child endangerment and an order of protection was issued but he has never been disciplined by the Iowa Supreme Court.

“You can’t neglect cases. If it’s a single event, typically it’s not an ethical issue. It’s a legal liability issue and you may be sued for malpractice and that’s what we have insurance for. If it becomes a pattern, that’s when the ethics commission gets involved,” Foxhaven explained.

The McFarlands could sue Rieper and they say they probably will. But right now money is tight. They have spent $18,000 on legal bills and adoption costs. Heidi, who is not working right now, had to cash in her retirement just to pay the bills.

But most of all, they aren’t ready for more court fighting. Right now they just want to mourn their son.

“I have to stay positive to keep going. My family needs me. Rachel needs me. Our friends need us. And I’m trying to be the bigger person. I’m trying very, very hard. God knows it’s hard,” Heidi said.

Rieper has declined to comment, citing confidentiality between himself and his clients. He also said he may be called as a witness in the criminal case against Gabriel’s biological father.

The 17-year-old father, Drew Weehler-Smith, is charged with neglect, but more charges could be added once the autopsy results are complete.


  • Jim

    There is a lot of things wrong with this whole thing. A lot of it is not considered politlically correct to comment on. But most people in Iowa would have a problem with the whole premise of this situation. Pretty easy to blame the lawyer. I happen to know him and he is one of those guys who really wants to help people. Not surprised that this couple would threaten someone that has helped them.

    • Patti Guy Sheeler

      Jim, he may want to help people, but in this case he made a big mistake that ended up with a life being lost. This couple paid him and he failed to do what was supposed to have been done. Good people make bad mistakes that unfortunately can cost them dearly.

    • Troy Hendrickson

      Actually Jim, most people in Iowa aren’t corrupt religious hypocrites and stand behind this couple like they would any other couple trying to make a family. Maybe it’s time for you to move to Iran with your own kind.

  • S.M.

    I hope the adoptive couple meets with a few different law firms and finds a great attorney to sue this Jason Rieper for malpractice. Someone that neglects a case in such a way, should not have a license to practice law.

  • Mills

    This attorney has only had his license for about 3 years… Typical for a baby attorney to make some mistakes in the order couple of years. Still no excuse. Also- interesting he is familiar with child endangerment charges, having being arrested himself.

  • Kyra

    I’m so glad this has turned into a story about this poor would-be adoptive couple rather than this poor baby.

  • S.M.

    Jim- what do you mean by ” not surprised that this couple would want to sue someone who has helped them” ? What help did this attorney do? He took money to provide a service and clearly failed miserably. Not only did he fail this couple, but he ultimately failed the baby. His negligence in completing this process and following through with procedure, pretty much resulted in the baby being allowed to return to the birth parents. If he would have filed the paperwork in a timely fashion, this would not have happened the other day. This Ankeny couple trusted this attorney to handle everything as he should. Everyone should know that when someone is willing to agree to what you want, by golly you act fast and get it in writing, or this case, singed sealed and delivered to the court for filing. He never should have sat on the documents. Epic fail.This poor baby and mothers (all three) involved.

  • Kelly Brandt

    Kyra, Jim and everyone else……..very easy for you to say about them. How would you feel? And did you see that they just want to mourn the loss of their son? A baby is dead because of many “failings” of this attorney and the fact that the baby was allowed to be returned to a stupid, spoiled rotten little girl who only wanted him for the state assistance so she could “be a grown-up”…….even after she said she knew she was NOT mature enough to raise a baby!! This is infuriating on so many levels, and this baby died as a result of negligence, not only from the father, but the lawyer!! We were so quick to arrest the scum-bag father……..that attorney should be arrested for neglect as well!!!

  • Fred Ver Schuure

    I don’t know but maybe you all do Did these people pay the lawyer to do all the extra paper work. I don’t know about Des Moines Lawyers but where I come from they need to be paid a retainer BEFORE THE WORK IS DONE!!!!!

  • Cris T.

    I sure am confused about a few things. News 13 first reported a termination hearing March 24th. How does a hearing get set without paperwork being filed? Also, in the tv broadcase, the McFarland’s said they paid multiple lawyer fees. Who are these other lawyers and how do they factor in? Pieces of this puzzle are missing, and News 13 is contradicting their own story. Most importantly, who are the other lawyers the McFarland’s paid?

  • Kristy

    I have very close knowledge of this case. The attorney is not at fault, and did his job. The ball was dropped at the next level. Another station will soon be reporting the true facts of this case.

  • Justice

    Frankly, I will state the politcally incorrect thing…I do not agree with the lifestyle of the adoptive parents. However, it is quite obvious that this baby would still be alive if the birth mother had not taken him away from them. So what is more important? My beliefs or the life of this innocent baby? I think the birth mother should be held accountable for his death as well as the father. She is the one that left him with that baby.

  • **

    If my daughter had a child at 16, there is no way in heck that I would not be part of supervising and making sure that she and the baby were ok. Especially with someone this young, there is a big chance that she lacks a lot of common sense. (Thus, this example). Part of me says shame in the biological grandparents for not stepping in and help oversee how the young couple is taking care of the child. Maybe they were partly? However, if it was my minor child having a baby- I would do whatever it takes to make sure I was part of the supervision. They evidently were not supervising their teenagers good enough in the first place since they got pregnant, you think yet would have stepped up and helped parent te grandchild especially for the first several months that he came back to them.

    • Kat

      This is yet another case exploited by the news with only partial facts, and not a full picture of the story. What they have also failed to mention is that Mr. Reiper has same-sex marriage and adoption rights at the top of this priority list. Last time I checked, $1800 in lawyer fees is nothing. Chances are he’s charging them the bare minimum.
      It’s easy to assume it’s the lawyer’s fault, but we can’t make that assumption based on one article summarizing MONTHS of work.
      If the family really wants closure, why not look at where *our laws* are really failing us. This isn’t about paperwork not being filed, this is about our legal system and its rights it gives to biological parents–no matter how irresponsible they are.

      Way to turn an honest, hard-working lawyer into a scum bag…this isn’t the way Des Moines should be treating any party in this case.

  • SS

    Jason and his dad are both highly respected lawyers in Des Moines. I doubt Jason misfiled anything. I know him and his wife, and they are the kindest people around. There’s more to this story, time will tell.

  • Been there

    Someone can be nice but still be bad at their profession. I for one hired Jason Rieper as my attorney for a custody case. After giving him over $6,000 in attorney retainer and fees, I decided to fire him and hire a different lawyer. There were many times where I would have to explain details of my situation over and over again, it was like he could not remember even the big details of my case. He was horrible at returning phone calls and completely lost part of my documents I gave him which I then had to take hours to locate copies and obtain the stuff all over again. I honestly felt like he could not retain basic information which ended up being detrimental to me. Had to borrow $5000 from family in order to put down another retainer, which ended up being a great decision because I ended up getting what I wanted with them. He was a friendly guy, just did not feel like he paid attention to details.

  • Ashleigh

    We hired Jason to represent us after we fired our own lawyer. We got everything we asked for and then some. Most importantly he barely charged us for his services because he understood our financial situation at the time. We paid three times as much for a lawyer that did nothing. Every situation in family law is different but I find it hard to believe that Jason didn’t file the correct paperwork.

  • Sally

    seems to me before we can say the baby would still be alive if it were with these ladies, we need to know the cause of death.

    I wonder when the autopsy results will be released. Sounds like the sperm doner (NOT father, a father would not have left his child alone) has only been charged with neglect so far.

    I feel bad for this couple in Ankeny. I am not homosexual and can not imagine being attracted to another woman. That doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful women and wouldn’t have been fantastic parents.

    I don’t have much sympathy for the lawyer. SS says she doubts he misfiled anything. It sounds like the problem is he didn’t file anything at all. If he didn’t have the birth mother’s signature on the termination of adoption papers, that couple in Ankeny needed to know that.

    When you are paying a professional to do a job you do now know how to do, you count on them to do it. If they cannot do it, for whatever reason, they need to make sure you know that.

    • Lissy

      SS-he had to have filed paperwork, otherwise why would the McFarland’s claim they were days away from their termination hearing?

  • M.M.

    I agree Sally. A lawyer should always be up front with their client and it sounds like he was not. I have read in a couple of different interviews that the biological girl never even received the paperwork to sign off on and had she received it, she would have. (according to her mother) Many weeks passed and she decided to change her mind about the adoption altogether. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. I have been watching the details of this case very closely as a family member had this attorney for their case and was displeased with how it was handled and attended to by the representation.

    • Lissy

      Jason has a legal responsibility to get termination papers to bio-mom’s lawyer, and bio-mom’s lawyer then has an obligation to get the termination papers to bio-mom. It wouldn’t be ethical for Jason to contact a 16-year-old minor, not to mention the McFarland’s claim they had to pay for a lawyer for her. You can’t contact an opposing party if they are represented by counsel. So the question is, did bio-mom have a lawyer? If so, did Jason send termination paperwork to bio-mom’s attorney? If he did, did that attorney then send the papers to bio-mom? Lots of unanswered questions here.

      What I didn’t (and still don’t) get is how it’s possible that the adoptive couple was days away from a termination hearing if paperwork wasn’t filed. Hearings don’t get scheduled without paperwork, and paperwork doesn’t file itself. So was or wasn’t there a hearing scheduled? If there was, Jason had to have filed paperwork. If their wasn’t, why did the news report that they were days away from a termination hearing? It doesn’t make sense.

  • M.M.

    I see they just updated the article that the Ankeny couple actually spent around $18,000 in adoption costs/attorney fees. That sounds more like it. They earlier had stated $1,800. I hope that the father meets Bubba.

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