MEMPHIS, Tenn.- A judge accused of bias said Friday he is stepping down from presiding over an American couple's attempt to adopt a Chinese girl against her parents' wishes.
The girl's natural parents, Shaoqiang He and Qin Luo, contend Judge D.J. Alissandratos has treated them unfairly, and their complaints have drawn the attention of the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
The Hes have been barred from visiting their 4-year-old daughter, Anna Mae, for more than two years while foster parents Jerry and Louise Baker have been trying to adopt her.
The Hes, struggling with financial hardships and a criminal charge, put Anna Mae in foster care shortly after her birth in 1999.
Their repeated attempts over the past three years to get the child back have failed, and they now face possible deportation before regaining custody of the girl.
Alissandratos said at a hearing for pretrial motions that he has asked the state Supreme Court to appoint a new judge because a complaint has been filed against him.
He did not go into detail.
David Siegel, the Hes' lawyer declined comment, and Larry Parrish, the Bakers' lawyer, said the judge's announcement caught him by surprise.
Complaints against judges are filed with the state Court of the Judiciary and are confidential. The chief justice of the Supreme Court appoints new judges in such cases and faces no time limit for doing so.
The Chinese couple accuse Alissandratos of being biased toward the Bakers. The complaint was prepared by for the Hes by Paul Li, a lawyer in San Francisco.
Li said from his office in California that he contacted the Hes offering help after reading news reports on the custody dispute.
The Chinese Embassy has written to the Court of the Judiciary saying it is "greatly concerned with this prolonged case and the legal interests of the Hes."
Pending before Alissandratos was a petition filed by the Bakers more than two years ago to terminate the Hes' parental rights to clear the way for an adoption.
Alissandratos has rejected requests from the Hes to visit their daughter and has often ruled against them on other pretrial matters.
"Our complaint ... is also based on abuse of power," He said.
For a time after the Bakers took custody of Anna Mae, her parents were allowed regular visits.
But the Hes have seen the child only once since police escorted them from the Bakers' residence almost three years ago after an argument over conditions for visitation.
In preparation for the trial, a court-appointed psychologist recently accompanied the Hes on a short visit with Anna Mae.
Parrish said his clients did not originally plan to adopt the child but now consider her "as much a part of their family as their natural born children."
"Anytime Mr. He doesn't get his way, he accuses the person who he thinks is not doing what he wants to do of being biased, unfair and prejudiced," Parrish said.
He was a graduate student at the University of Memphis in 1998 when he was accused of sexually assaulting another student. He lost his scholarship, and Anna Mae was born while her father was under indictment.
He was acquitted of the criminal charge early this year but has no legal basis for staying in the United States since he is no longer a student.
The Hes have an immigration court hearing next month and could be deported, whether or not they have Anna Mae.