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Adoption advocate pushes for change in light of Paul Petersen's arrest

An Arkansas adoption attorney says illegal adoption schemes, like the one Paul Petersen is accused of running, were the worst kept secrets in his field.

PHOENIX — For the second time in a week, Paul Petersen faced a judge. This time, it was here in Arizona, and the suspended Maricopa County Assessor has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In light of Petersen's case, some in the adoption community are pushing for major changes.

“We also knew that there were some behaviors going on in the practice of adoption," said Arkansas adoption attorney Josh Bryant. "We're finally seeing people held accountable."

Bryant said illegal adoption schemes, like the one Paul Petersen is accused of running, were the worst kept secrets in his field.

“Out of all the stories that we had heard about any number of attorneys, his name popped up pretty frequently," said Bryant of Petersen.

That's why before Petersen's arrest in early October, Bryant pushed for changes to Arkansas adoption law.

RELATED: These are the charges against Paul Petersen, accused of running illegal adoption scheme involving Marshallese women

“We knew that some people who were associated with these attorneys were sitting in parks that were frequented by pregnant women and would go up to these pregnant women offer them cash if they would go right then to an attorney's office with the promise of more money if they would place their child up for adoption," said Bryant.

Now, that behavior is illegal in Arkansas and is classified as human trafficking. Bryant, though, still believes there is more work to do, and he believes it should be done on a national level.

“One of the key things that would fix a lot of this is dealing with conflicts of interest. Both in terms of adoption age and private attorneys who do adoptions," said Bryant.

In many cases, Bryant said the biological families and adoptive families are represented by the same attorney. He also said translators hired by those attorneys oftentimes are not properly trained.

“You’ve got translators who are not certified, who don’t know legal jargon and don’t know how to translate that into their own language who have become chokepoints of information," said Bryant.

RELATED: How adoption in the Marshall Islands differs from adoption in the US

Petersen has pleaded not guilty to all charges, denying the allegations against him that he illegally brought pregnant women to the United States from the Marshall Islands to put their babies up for adoption.

RELATED: 'I can't wait to get back to my family': Paul Petersen speaks to 12 News in Arkansas

"Paul Petersen is not a human smuggler but we understand what the charges are and we're ready to get in court and defend them," his attorney said. 

Bryant said there is still a bigger problem when it comes to adoptions and believes it won't stop until legislators take action.

“This conduct was allowed to grow and fester in the dark and my responsibility is to bring that into the light," said Bryant.

As it stands, Petersen's trial in Arkansas is scheduled to begin on Dec. 9 but his attorneys say they believe that will ultimately be pushed back.

RELATED: Paul Petersen pleads not guilty to Arizona charges

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