Opinion: Why Was Casey Johnson Allowed to Adopt?

Filed under: Opinions

Casey Johnson with her daughter Ava at an event in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2008. Credit: Amy Graves, WireImage


The recent death of Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson is a classic American tragedy: Poor little rich girl, living fast and dying young. However, what is even more distressing is the fact that she leaves behind a 3-year-old daughter, Ava-Monroe, adopted from Kazakhstan in 2007.

Johnson, 30, was found dead in her Los Angeles home Jan. 4, according to The New York Times. The daughter of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, Casey was also the great-great-granddaughter of the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, the health products manufacturer.

The socialite moved in star-studded circles and counted among her best friends Paris and Nicky Hilton. Her lifestyle was far from stable, as revealed by the fact that her mother, Sale, felt it necessary to take custody of Ava, The Huffington Post reports. Just last month, Johnson and her girlfriend, reality TV star Tila Tequila, flew from Los Angeles to New York City in an attempt to regain custody of the child -- and came home empty-handed.

All of this leaves us wondering -- just why was it so easy for such a troubled young woman to adopt a child? We've become so used to celebrities swooping into foreign countries and coming home with a brood of children, that we don't even blink when we read about another kid being added to the Jolie-Pitt clan.

But Johnson's case is different: How is it possible that her wealth and family name outweighed the obvious facts of her life? Reports of her lifestyle offer ample evidence that she was a less-than-ideal adoptive parent. According to one particularly damning story in the New York Daily News, a family friend said Sale Johnson helped her daughter recover from a couple of diabetic comas; Johnson was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a child and according to a friend, her "body couldn't metabolize the drugs and alcohol she was using." The Daily News also reports that Johnson has been in and out of rehab for drug problems.

A medical form required by the government of Kazakhstan, lists several diseases that prohibit prospective parents from adopting a child from the country, including alcoholism, drug addiction and toxicomania.

These characteristics of Johnson's life would have presented significant road blocks for an ordinary single woman looking to adopt a child.

And Johnson's problems went beyond her health: Although her troubles seem to have escalated since pairing up with Tequila ( the Los Angeles Police Department has issued search warrants against both women on Dec. 11, in regard to Johnson's arrest for grand theft stemming from allegations that the heiress stole clothing and jewelry from her ex-girlfriend, model Jasmine Lennard, according to TMZ), the hard-partying heiress's antics had made her a fixture in NYC gossip columns for most of the last decade.

We aren't the only ones who question the wisdom of giving Johnson custody of a child. "Casey was probably the last person who should have been taking care of a baby," a family friend tells the News. And Eonline reports that Child Protective Services paid Johnson at least two visits.

Ava's adoption gets even more murky when delving into Johnson's family. Her aunt, Libet Johnson, founded a Cambodian orphanage from which Johnson originally planned to adopt a child. Johnson's adoption request was denied, according to a scandalous story in New York magazine. While the Daily News reports that many believe Johnson's application was denied due to newer, stricter adoption laws, New York magazine hints that it may have had more to do with a feud between Libet and Casey Johnson -- the younger woman accused her aunt of stealing her then-boyfriend, John Dee, just prior to losing that child.

The coda to that story? Libet Johnson adopted a child from that same orphanage, and is now engaged in a strange custody battle with that child's adopted father.

Granted, Casey Johnson sounds remarkably poised and well-balanced in a 2007 Life/Style Television interview, where she discusses Ava's then-upcoming adoption.

"I can say it was probably the best day of my life, to see her photos," Johnson says, referring to the day the adoption agency informed her that Ava would be hers. "I mean, I was hysterically crying, you know, out of joy."





She goes on to say that she won't raise Ava the way she was raised, and would never spoil her to the point of irresponsibility. Clearly, Johnson was unable to escape that fate herself.

Somewhere in the three years between that interview and her death, something went terribly wrong. What is less obvious is how any responsible adoption agency didn't see it coming. Perhaps it's time for the United States to demand uniformity across the board when it comes to international adoptions, regardless of your last name, social status and wealth.

As for Ava, for now she is with her grandmother, Sale, and Sale's husband, former NFL player and sports broadcaster Ahmad Rashad, according to a family spokesman. We hope she remains there, but Casey's torrid past certainly suggests a bizarre custody battle of some sort could be in the little girl's future.

Related: Casey Johnson Dead at 30. Tila Tequila Tweets During Loss of Her Heiress Fiancee

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