Saying she did not wish to burden the taxpayers any longer, a circuit judge this morning released Angel Adams, the homeless mother of 12 dependent children who was jailed last week after refusing to tell the court whether she was pregnant for the 16th time in 21 years.
Adams, 37, appeared today before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan for the third time since Thursday. That's when the judge found Adams in contempt for refusing to testify and placed the 12 children in foster care.
Sheehan decided to release Adams without posing the pregnancy question.
"She has no interest in purging her contempt charge," Sheehan said, "and I have no interest in keeping her in jail."
The judge said that since Adams' 12 dependent children are in state custody, there is no concern about whom the mother associates with.
"She can get pregnant by another man if she so chooses," the judge said.
After the court's decision was announced, Adams said in open court she was not pregnant. Dressed in a baggy, orange jail jumpsuit and in handcuffs, Adams apologized to the judge and caseworkers trying to help her find a rent-subsidized house last week.
"My children have not been around any men aside from their father," she said. "I do want to apologize to you and say I'm sorry to everyone else in the room. Everyone went out of their way to get me a house."
Sheehan said the contempt citation stood, even though she ordered Adams' release.
"I, in no way, will reward you for your contemptuous behavior," the judge said, "apology or not."
Last week's hearing initially was called to update the judge on the housing situation for Adams. The judge retains jurisdiction over the family from a case two years ago, when Adams lost custody of her children because of neglect allegations. The children were returned to Adams six months ago, and Adams has had regular status hearings before Sheehan.
Hillsborough Kids Inc., the child-welfare agency assisting Adams, had worked for a week to secure Section 8 housing for her and the children. A six-bedroom, two-story home in Sulphur Springs was being prepared for them to live in rent free.
One of the requirements of the housing was the completion of a safety plan for the children in which Adams was to list everyone who would be coming into the home, including relatives and friends. She refused to give any names, saying she didn't want to lose the children if an unauthorized person visited.
She eventually gave the names of four relatives who would be frequent visitors. That was when Sheehan asked whether Adams was pregnant. The judge said if Adams was pregnant, then the name of that baby's father was not on the list. Adams refused to answer. Later, through her attorney, she said the question was too personal.
Adams' plight came to light two weeks ago, when she had moved herself and her children into a single room at a rundown motel on East Busch Boulevard after being evicted from her apartment.
She complained that Hillsborough County and the state were not helping enough, even though, according to court documents, she was drawing $2,600 a month in government food and cash assistance. She also objected to caseworkers and child-protection investigators making frequent inquiries into her home.
Her comments sparked a widespread debate about how much the state should dole to the needy, particularly to a woman who has 15 children and doesn't work. The judge's order releasing Adams said that a lot of government money has been spent on this case.
The order said agencies were prepared to pay $1,900 a month in food stamps and $600 in cash to pay for utilities and other expenses at her new house. Hillsborough Kids had paid a 4-year-old back-rent debt of $6,000 so Adams would be eligible for subsidized housing.
Two years ago, Angel lost her children to foster care following neglect allegations. Her boyfriend, the father of at least two of the children, had been jailed on drug dealing charges. He is in prison until 2014.
Adams and her children were reunited six months ago, and the family remains under the jurisdiction of Hillsborough family court.
Adams' children are at A Kid's Place, a shelter near Brandon, for foster children. Child welfare officials say they appear happy, are enrolled at a school on the property and are getting medical check-ups. A meeting is scheduled for later today to talk about a long-term plan for the children's placement.
Wade Lijewski, director of the Children's Home Society, said that several relatives of Adams and church members of those relatives have come forward asking to help.
Nick Cox, regional director of the Florida Department of Children & Families, said Adams' apology was a move forward, as the goal of the department is always to reunite children with biological parents.
The children will not be reunited with their mother in the foreseeable future, though Adams will be allowed to visit them if she gives notifies officials 48 hours in advance. Cox said the agency will come up with a plan for the family within a week and has a year to decide whether to work toward reunification or ask that parental rights for Adams be terminated.
"What [Adams] did today was a major turnaround," Cox said after the hearing. "I hope it's sincere."