SANTA ANA — An infertile Tustin couple involved in an unprecedented custody battle with a surrogate mother sued her and the lawyer who arranged the surrogacy contract Tuesday.
Mark and Crispina Calvert filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court against Anna M. Johnson, the surrogate mother, lawyer William W. Handel and his organization, the Center for Surrogate Parenting Inc., alleging fraud, breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress.
"Had we known everything that could have gone wrong with a surrogacy arrangement, we would never have gone forward with it under the terms presented to us by Mr. Handel," Mark Calvert said.
"Surrogacy is lunacy without proper legal counsel," he told reporters at a press conference held at the office of his attorney, Ronald E. Lais.
Handel said he was "amazed, astounded and hurt" to learn that the Calverts were suing him. "I'm absolutely shocked. These are friends and buddies. We helped them raise money for their court costs," Handel said. "What else did they say in the suit? Did they say we killed their dog, too?"
The lawsuit stems from a January, 1990, surrogacy arrangement between the Calverts and Johnson. The plan fell apart when Johnson, who had agreed to carry the couple's baby to term for $10,000, reneged on the contract and sued for parental rights to the child.
After contentious legal battles in local superior and state appeals courts, the Calverts were granted sole custody of the boy, who will be 2 years old on Saturday. Johnson was denied all parental and visitation rights. The case is currently before the state Supreme Court on appeal.
The precedent-setting case was the nation's first legal test of whether a surrogate mother with no genetic connection to the child has parental rights.
Although the lawsuit does not put a dollar figure on the damages sought, the Calverts estimate that they have incurred more than $150,000 in legal fees. Emotionally, they said, the price has been much greater.
"Our hearts break for our son, Christopher Michael," Mark Calvert said. "Because of the litigation, we had to sell our house on a quiet street and next to a park which we had bought for Christopher to have a pleasant and safe place to enjoy. . . . Christopher now lives on a busy street. Why should he suffer?"
According to the lawsuit, Handel drew up the surrogate contract but failed to warn the couple of the potential legal and emotional pitfalls in such an agreement.
"Mr. Handel never, and I repeat never, advised us of the potential adverse consequences about entering into this type of agreement," Calvert said. "He only advised us of the benefits and the wonderful families created by surrogacy. He knew of potential problems. We were entitled to know the downside."
Although Handel provided the written contract, he did not find the woman who became the surrogate mother. The couple said they could not afford to use Handel's services for the search and found Johnson on their own. Once she agreed to be a surrogate, they went to Handel to finalize the contract.
In the lawsuit, the Calverts contend that Handel did not tell them about the risks of "entering into a surrogacy arrangement with such an unqualified potential surrogate."
Handel disputed that claim.
"Throughout the entire contract, it says how risky it is," he said. "I talked with them for six hours. They were warned of the potential problems."
Handel said he even suggested that his organization do a background check on Johnson, whom he didn't know, to make sure she was fit to meet their needs, but they declined, saying they trusted her.
The suit further charges that Johnson breached the contract by lying about her fitness to be a surrogate mother. The Calverts contend that Johnson concealed previous pregnancy problems, including several miscarriages and stillbirths.
"She represented that she had been screened (as a surrogate mother) by Mr. Handel when she had not," Calvert said.
Neither Johnson nor her attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Calverts said they hope the lawsuit will help prevent other infertile couples from experiencing their ordeal.