Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen made his initial court appearance on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.
Maricopa County Superior Court
Paul Petersen has been facilitating adoptions between Arizona families and women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands since 2005.
His process — which includes arranging for pregnant Marshallese women to fly to the U.S. to deliver their children — violates a treaty with the Marshall Islands that prohibits Marshallese women from traveling to the U.S. for the purpose of placing their child for a adoption, according to indictments.
According to court records, a judge picked up on Petersen’s scheme 13 years ago and called its legality into question then.
But the practice continued.
2006 adoption nearly canceled
An Arizona couple represented by Petersen attempted to adopt a Marshallese child in 2006, but was met with blowback by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge with concerns about Petersen’s adoption method, according to court records.
Much like in the recent cases outlined by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Petersen arranged for a pregnant woman from the Marshall Islands to travel to Mesa to deliver her baby. When the adoptive couple attempted to finalize the adoption of the child about six months later, a judge denied the couple’s petition.
Brian Rees, a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner in the juvenile division, said Petersen violated the Compact of Free Association, the treaty that prevents Marshallese women from traveling to the U.S. to place their children for adoption.
The Arizona Court of Appeals, in a decision written by Ann Scott Timmer, ultimately reversed Rees’ decision, ruling that it was in the child’s best interest for the Arizona couple to adopt him.
That said, the Court of Appeals wrote in its decision, “we appreciate the juvenile court’s well-expressed concerns about the manner in which this prospective adoption was arranged.”
Rees remains a Superior Court commissioner. Timmer is now an Arizona Supreme Court justice.
It does not appear that the Court of Appeals or any other legal or law enforcement entity scrutinized Peterson’s practices any further — until late last year, when the Arizona Department of Public Safety opened an investigation after receiving a tip.
According to the Arizona attorney general’s investigation, Petersen arranged for 28 Marshallese women to travel to Arizona to give birth between 2015-2019.
It’s unknown how many additional women were involved in previous years.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 480-694-1823. Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS.
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