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Judge reaches out to children with annual toy adoptions

January 5, 2016

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the News and Tribune.

Six-year-old Landon Johnson is now the proud father of Sharktopus, a toy he made when he was 5, based on one of his favorite movies.

Johnson was one of dozens of children, and even some adults, who adopted favorite dolls, toys — even some guinea pigs — at an annual adoption day hosted by Clark Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael on Saturday.

In a hearing before Carmichael in the courtroom, Johnson raised his hand for an oath, told Carmichael a little bit about the toy he brought in and promised to take good care of Sharktopus.

Jami Atkins, Nicole Atkins and Kenny McKim were there with Johnson to watch the ceremony.

"He was really nervous," Nicole Atkins said. "He wanted to be a good father."

The three agreed that this was a really special event for kids.

"We think it's awesome," Nicole Atkins said.

Carmichael has hosted the toy adoptions since 2007, taking over the tradition Clark Circuit Court No. 2 Judge Buzz Jacobs started decades ago.

"Buzz Jacobs did it when Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage, and nobody had picked it up after he had retired," Carmichael said. "It had been several years since anybody had done it and I thought, 'We need to start that again. Let's do it.'"

She said it's interesting seeing the parents who were children when Jacobs was doing it now bringing their own children in for the experience, and extra-special when parents who have adopted children during the year bring them in to experience the process with their own dolls and toys.

"Their parents will bring them in and say 'Hey, why don't you do this, we did this for you,'" Carmichael said. "It's just fun."

Debbie Cooper, Clark County courts administrator, offered snacks and registered the adoptive parents outside of the courtroom, before their individual hearings.

"They just fill out their registration form with their name and the name of their doll or toy, where they live, what their grandparents names are — of the toy I mean," Cooper said. "And then they type up the certificates in the court office and they take them to the judge and she brings them up in front there and does the adoption."

There were several boxes of toys donated by the Clark County Sheriff's Office and Carmichael and her court staff for any children who wanted to adopt but didn't bring a toy.

"We have some extras just in case," Cooper said.

Cooper said she has a lot of fun helping with the ceremonies. This was her second year.

"It's just exciting for the kids," she said. "I love to see them get excited. And they're so impressed with meeting the judge, with getting to go in front of a real judge."

Sisters Sami, 5, and Morgan, 9, McDonald were both adopting American Girl Dolls on Saturday — Sami brought Itsy Baby and Morgan brought Kelsey. These aren't the first dolls the girls have adopted in Carmichael's court, although the last time they were there, Sami was in a stroller.

Debbie and Roger McDonald said they were happy to bring their daughters back for the experience.

"We're just glad this event is available," Debbie McDonald said. "It's fun. They enjoy it."

The hearings weren't reserved only for children, or for toys.

Ali May, 13, and her brother Nick May, 10, each cradled a guinea pig while they promised Carmichael they would be good caretakers of the furry, squeaky pets.

Marty McFly, a female, and Piper Mint, joined the May household this Christmas, and Ali said it seemed natural to bring them in for the official ceremony.

"I wanted to adopt them," she said. "I got a little too old for dolls so I brought in my guinea pigs."

Ali said although these are her first guinea pigs, they're her favorite animals.

"One of them is lazy," Ali said. "It's fat and it sleeps in a little bed that's upstairs in their cage. The other one is energetic and it eats, too. A lot."

There is no standard cage for these two, either. They live in a two-story pad built by her father, complete with beds and treats.

Carmichael said that the community outreach is important to her, especially as Circuit Court No. 4 handles juvenile cases.

"We wanted to do something for kids that would show them that court could be fun, and that judges are real people and not scary people, that good things sometimes happen in court not always bad things," she said. "We open up the court and say 'Hey, this is a good place, it's a fun place, we don't always have to be the bad guys.'"

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