The Hawaii office that investigates misconduct by attorneys said Wednesday that it is launching an investigation of Laurie Loomis, a Honolulu lawyer who has specialized in adoptions involving birth mothers from the Marshall Islands. Loomis was the subject of a Civil Beat story published Wednesday.

In an email to Civil Beat, Chief Disciplinary Counsel Bradley Tamm said his office is required by a Hawaii Supreme Court rule to investigate matters brought to its attention by complaints or “otherwise.” Civil Beat’s story, Tamm said, fits into the latter category.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel investigates and prosecutes misconduct claims against Hawaii attorneys. Cases are heard first by a hearing officer or committee, which makes recommendation to a disciplinary board, whose findings are in turn reviewed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Among the possible actions are private or public reprimand, public censure, suspension or revocation. Discipline depends on factors such as the attorney’s mental state, potential for harm and prior discipline.

“The system is designed to protect the public and preserve the integrity of the judicial process and legal profession,” according to the disciplinary board’s website.

Marshallese adoptions have been a concern for decades. Authorities tried to put reforms in place 20 years ago but some attorneys have continued to skirt the laws and restrictions aimed at countering exploitation of young women.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

Civil Beat’s investigation into Loomis was part of a broader series on illicit adoptions of Marshallese children called “Black Market Babies.”

In at least three cases identified by Civil Beat, birth mothers in Loomis adoptions flew from the Marshall Islands to Hawaii to place their babies in adoptions. A treaty between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands bars such travel. Marshallese women doing international adoptions are expected instead to go through a central authority in the Marshall Islands to make sure they’re not exploited and understand the nature of U.S. adoptions.

In one adoption arranged by Loomis, a Marshallese birth mother told Civil Beat she didn’t learn until she was signing adoption papers in a Waikiki hotel room where she had been housed that the adoption would be closed. She was afraid to back out, she said, because she couldn’t afford to repay the money that had been spent on her.

Laurie Loomis Marshallese adoptions Black Market Babies

Attorney Laurie Loomis is under investigation by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Another woman flew twice from Arkansas to Hawaii for Loomis adoptions, and according to paperwork, was signed up both times for Hawaii’s Medicaid program, even though she was in the state for a short time. That taxpayer-funded program is meant only for those who intend to reside in Hawaii.

Loomis enlisted birth mothers who had been working with other attorneys and adoptive couples. One of those birth mothers was convicted in 2018 for fraud in Arkansas.

The attorney paid birth mothers as much as $8,000 in addition to living expenses. Hawaii is one of only five states that allow such lump sum payments, which other states bar to avoid the buying of babies.

In a response to Civil Beat, Loomis said she could not discuss individual adoptions because they are private, but said that in a 35-year career, she has always strictly complied with applicable laws.

Another attorney whose activities were detailed in the Civil Beat series, Paul Petersen, was charged in three states in October with a variety of state and federal charges. Petersen is also the elected assessor of Maricopa County, Arizona.

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