Spokane County Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke looked a bit surprised Friday morning as he strolled up to the bench in his customary black robe.
The jury box was filled with children and adults in superhero costumes, among them a woman dressed as She-Ra and a young boy donning a full Ironman suit.
“Is there some kind of Marvel-DC competition here?” asked Mark Iverson, an attorney specializing in adoption cases.
In the center of the courtroom was Sheri, a jubilant 3-year-old in an Ironman costume of her own, seated on her mother’s knee along with her father (Batman) and three young sisters (Batgirl, Supergirl and the Flash).
This was Sheri’s final adoption hearing, and her parents had decided to make it a fun one. Dozens of friends and family members turned out, many in colorful costumes, to show their support.
“We’re happy that the long, three-year process is over,” Erica Wisner, Sheri’s adoptive mother, told the court in her Superwoman costume.
“Excited,” her husband, Steve, chimed in. “Very excited.”
Saturday is National Adoption Day, which aims to draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of children who enter foster care in the United States each year. On Friday, Spokane County courthouse staff hosted a celebration in the third-floor jury selection room, complete with face painting, balloons, doughnuts and other treats, a stuffed animal “zoo” and a visit by Disney princess performers.
“The reason we do all this is to put the word out there that we need more adoptive parents,” said Theresa Stone, the social worker who handled Sheri’s adoption case. “The more that we can spread the word about the need, the better.”
Diane Salinas, an adoption supervisor with the state Children’s Administration, said 30 children ages 2 to 15 were legally united with their forever families at the courthouse on Friday. Iverson, the attorney, said his office alone handles 20 to 25 adoptions each month.
Stone said hundreds of children in Spokane County are legally free for adoption, and she urged prospective foster parents to contact the Foster Parent Association of Eastern Washington for information. The group’s phone number is (509) 359-6130, and its website is fpas.org.
The Wisners, who live in Otis Orchards, have adopted all four of their daughters. In addition to Sheri, there’s 6-year-old Athena, 5-year-old Kenzie and 4-year-old Klara.
Erica Wisner, 32, is a pre-school teacher. Steve, 33, works in food distribution. They have fostered Sheri since she was infant; they said her biological mom has been in and out of jail for years, mainly because of a drug addiction.
“I guess I would just encourage people to consider it,” Erica Wisner said of adoption.
Amy Gladden, the woman dressed as She-Ra, is a family friend. But on Friday she identified herself as Sheri’s new “auntie.”
“Erica and Steve have more love to give than anyone I know,” Gladden said. “And Sheri just completes the family.”