The Best Holiday Gift A Judge Could Give

It's got to be confusing being a kid in a courtroom. You're told this is a place where grown-ups make big decisions.

But they can't even decide if they want to stand or sit, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports for Assignment America.

The clerk says "All rise!" and the judge says, "please be seated."

Fortunately for the Salters, a family of four from Lansing, Mich., about to become a family of five, decorum is dispensed with almost immediately, and the judge cuts straight to the fun part.

"The court finds it is clearly in this lady's best interest to allow this adoption. And after this day her parents are always going to be Bradley Austin Salters and Tiffany Nicole Salters," the judge says.

And with a wack of the gavel, another foster child finds a permanent home.

"Mommy: the best present that anyone will ever get in a lifetime," the judge announced.

"The greatest gift, there's no better Christmas that I could have ever imagined than to know that she's never leaving here," Tiffany Salters said.

Family court judge R. George Economy always makes a point of scheduling adoptions right before his holiday break. Bunches of adoptions. He started doing it 21 years ago, because he says it beats the heck out of ending the year on a divorce.

"And I wanted that smile in my heart when I went home to my own family for Christmas," Economy said.

When Hartman visited his courtroom, lots of adopting foster families in central Michigan ask for Judge Economy - for obvious reasons. Most of these kids have been in the system for quite a while, which is why Judge Economy always lets them do the gavel to officially end their ordeal.

"There have been times they've really pounded that gavel down, I'm thinking the whole desk is going to shatter, but so what," he said. "We'll build another desk."

This year's hardest hitter was 16-year-old Jackie Lovegrove. She's been in and out of foster care since age 9, but has been with this couple, Steve and Mary Vignassi, for the last two years. She says she's looking forward to telling them she loves them.

"You haven't?" Hartman asked her.

"Before today it would have seemed scary, like they would have disappeared," she said.


"You're stuck with me now," Jackie said to her new father.

Judge Economy started doing this to kick off his own holiday right. But if it does the same for you, so much the better.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.