Kaylee Klein, the Town of Tonawanda girl placed in court-ordered foster care for a second time last year after she and her parents became the subjects of a nationwide manhunt, will celebrate her fourth birthday Thursday in her latest foster home.
Erie County Family Court Judge James H. Dillon, in a ruling Friday that left Michael and Christine Klein upset, pointedly rejected the couple's bid to regain custody of their only child, whom they currently see for two hours each week.
After two months of sessions on the custody dispute, the judge agreed with the county government and Kaylee's court-assigned law guardians that she needs to remain in foster care until at least July 21.
Dillon warned the Kleins -- who were jailed from March 1 to April 29 after the FBI tracked them and Kaylee to Connecticut -- that their daughter might remain in foster care for even longer if they fail to successfully complete their court-ordered counseling and parenting training.
Dillon stressed that the ultimate aim of the court is the return of the child to her parents once he is satisfied they have successfully completed all their professional therapy.
As the court session ended Friday and Klein, 52, the owner of a landscaping concern, mumbled something about Kaylee's current foster mother to his 43-year-old wife, the judge warned Klein that he will not tolerate any threats against their child's foster parents.
Mary T. Sullivan, the couple's chief lawyer, assured the judge that Klein hadn't voiced a threat against the foster couple even though he is clearly upset because of alleged evidence that Kaylee has been beaten in her current foster home and suffered lice infestations. .
After the court session, Sullivan called Dillon's ruling "ridiculous" and not legally justified. She said the couple's attorneys will ask the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester sometime in the next month or so to order Kaylee's return to her parents.
Dillon stressed that his ruling stemmed in part from evidence Michael Klein didn't begin actively participating in court-ordered professional counseling sessions, other than just complaining about the county government's efforts, until the county in November pressed for extended foster care.
During Friday's court session, Sullivan noted that both Kleins have undergone court-ordered psychiatric evaluations, which determined that neither is mentally unbalanced or needs medications to control their moods, and both are involved in court-ordered counseling programs. The judge said he sided with attorneys for the county's Social Services Department and Kaylee's court-assigned law guardians on the custody issue, because neither parent has yet to complete counseling, and he is still "unsure" whether they can provide their child with an emotionally safe home.
Conceding "there's no question that Kaylee Klein loves her parents" and emotionally loses control at the end of each of her two-hour weekly supervised visits with them, the judge said he remains disturbed by what he called "indications there has been no change in their attitudes" toward parenting.
The judge didn't dispute Sullivan's contention that Kaylee goes into tantrums at the end of each of her weekly visits with her parents because she continues to suffer separation anxiety that has led to her getting psychological care recently.
Sullivan also told the judge that three times over the past 10 months, Kaylee's current foster mother has turned down toys the Kleins wanted to give Kaylee, telling them scornfully that "she doesn't need those toys."
The Kleins are fully complying with court-ordered counseling mandates and have been unfairly targeted by county child protection workers because they expressed their "disdain" for the county workers monitoring them, the Kleins' attorney told the judge.
Dillon reminded Sullivan and the Kleins that he had returned Kaylee to them in September 1998 after she had spent about five months in foster care after their arguing upset her, and that they challenged government contentions that they needed counseling.
Dillon cited the monthlong nationwide manhunt for them last year after they fled with Kaylee in the midst of their last fight with the county government over her care. They were arrested by the FBI in Connecticut on March 1.
The judge also noted they both pleaded guilty in April to misdemeanor attempted child endangerment charges and served brief jail terms.
Under a court deal worked out last year, Kaylee had been slated for a return to her parents a week ago, but in November the county government began pressing for extended foster custody because of alleged doubts about her parents' efforts at professionally supervised rehabilitation.