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Woman claims Martin abused her position to adopt her son

Sebrina Martin adopted the newborn sibling of a minor client she represented in a 2016 dependency case.

Brittnie Morgan Whitt (right) said Sebrina Martin (left) used her position as guardian ad litem for Whitt's daughter to eventually adopt her son.

Although Sebrina Martin lost custody of six children in 2013 due to excessive corporal punishment in her Montgomery home, she currently has custody of two adopted children.

In a video statement released by Sebrina Martin last Friday, Martin claims that if the allegations recounted by her children in the APR article were true, she would never have been able to adopt her youngest son.

In a video from a campaign event in April, Martin tells an audience that she adopted both of her children from the foster care system.

But the biological mother of that now 5-year-old boy reached out to APR with a very different story of how Sebrina Martin came to adopt her son. Whitt has since filed a bar complaint against Sebrina Martin, Jesse Heifner and Montgomery attorney Katie O’Mallia detailing the same story.

Dependency case begins against Brittnie Morgan Whitt

The story begins in October 2015. Montgomery County Department of Human Resources responded to a call to the home of Brittnie Morgan Whitt, then 25. Whitt lived in the home with her father and daughter, then 3 years old. APR will refer to this daughter as “Linda” to protect her identity.

Whitt tested positive for THC, and DHR placed Linda into foster care. Whitt said her father changed the locks that day and she became homeless.

“I was in a bad place,” Whitt admitted. “I needed help. I was going through a phase where I was partying way too much to put a lot of things first. When my dad involved DHR initially, it was to make sure I was capable of providing for her and being there for her.”

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Whitt was assigned a lawyer, Katherine Steinwinder, and Linda was assigned a Guardian Ad Litem— Sebrina Martin. Steinwinder told APR the Alabama Bar Association had instructed her not to comment on the case.

Whitt becomes pregnant

Six months after the case began, Whitt became pregnant with her second child.  

Upon realizing that she was pregnant, Whitt notified her case worker and her attorney. Soon after, Whitt said Martin reached out to her through an assistant to set up a lunch, without the presence of Whitt’s attorney.

Rule 4.2(a) of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct states that “in representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.”

Whitt said Martin informed her that the situation was nothing out of the ordinary.

“She said she wanted to get to know me to find out what’s best for Linda,” Whitt said. “It was very casual, I never would have thought there was anything improper about it.”

Whitt said the lunch conversation remained relatively generic, speaking about the case and the pregnancy.

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At the time of these events, Whitt had moved in with a woman she refers to as her “second mother,” who she has lived with during hard times, starting with a time when she was homeless  at the age of 16. APR will refer to this woman as “Sue.” APR spoke with Sue, who confirmed that Whitt began living with her on Memorial Day weekend in 2016. She also confirmed the lunch meeting between Whitt and Martin, and that she believes the meeting was held without anyone else present, including Whitt’s attorney.

Whitt remembers hearing from DHR in mid-June 2016 that the baby would be removed from her custody once it was born as a precaution.

“My case worker said that ‘under protocol, come the baby’s due date, you’re going to be flagged with hospitals in Alabama and we will show up and take custody of him in the hospital,’” Whitt said. “They made it very clear, no matter what happened between then and (the due date), nothing could keep that from happening despite housing or income level.”

By that time, Whitt said she was speaking more often with Martin than she was with her own attorney.

“Sebrina was always kind to me and at a time where I felt like I was fighting the world, I trusted Sebrina,” Whitt wrote in her bar complaint. She said Martin had told her that as a GAL, her decision held the most weight in the courtroom.

So immediately after that phone call with the case worker, Whitt immediately reached out to Martin.

“I called Sebrina’s office really distraught explaining what I had been told,” Whitt said. “(Martin) told me what was happening was unfortunate and that DHR was crooked.”

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According to Whitt, Martin reinforced the idea that Whitt would be unable to keep her son once he was born, at least until the current dependency case had been closed.

Soon, Martin and Whitt would have a second lunch, at Sushi Cafe in Montgomery, again without the presence of Whitt’s attorney, Steinwinder.

It was at this lunch that Whitt said the plan began for Martin to adopt Whitt’s son from her.

A twist of fate

“Do you believe in fate bringing us together?” Whitt remembers Martin asking her as they sat in the cafe.

Whitt said Martin had more directly shown interest at this lunch in talking about the pregnancy.

“I told her I’m seriously considering adoption,” Whitt said. “It was the only way I would have a say in where he went. I wanted to have a voice, a say-so.”

According to Whitt, Martin informed her that she had already been approved by the state to adopt a child and had been waiting for three years. The problem was the expenses associated with adoptions, Whitt recalled Martin telling her. 

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“At first she seemed like an answer to prayer,” Morgan said. “I was desperate for some kind of miracle … nobody gave me hope but Sebrina.”

Sue confirmed remembering this lunch meeting as well, again without any representation present for Whitt, to the extent of her knowledge.

Whitt said the feeling was “euphoric” immediately following the lunch, but soon after as Martin began to take her shopping and invite Whitt into her home, Whitt said Martin began advising her against speaking about the adoption with Steinwinder or her own family.

“She was very clear that if DHR was to find out, it could only complicate the adoption,” Whitt said. “She said none of the attorneys needed to know until it was finalized.”

On June 29, Whitt sent a text message to a friend, which she showed to APR.

“I found the baby’s home!!!!” Whitt texted the friend. “I’m so happy gonna call you when get home after visiting (Linda) I love you.”

With Sue confirming that Whitt lived in her home beginning at the end of May, and the text message confirming that Whitt had “found a home” for the baby on June 29, both lunches with Martin must have taken place throughout June. 

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Martin withdraws from the dependency case

On July 5, Martin filed a motion to withdraw from representing Linda as guardian ad litem, citing a conflict of interest.

Whitt recalled Steinwinder leaning over to her in the courtroom and asking Whitt if she knew what conflict of interest Martin was referring to.

Whitt, with Martin’s advisement in mind, said “No.”

“I remember everybody looking around the room trying to process it,” Whitt said. “Nobody really could believe it, the energy around it was pretty intense.”

On July 11, Martin’s motion to withdraw was granted.

Whitt moves in with Martin

Within two weeks of the withdrawal, Whitt was living in the home with Sebrina Martin, Jesse Heifner and Martin’s adopted daughter.

In a text message dated July 25, 2016, to the baby’s father, Whitt states that she just began living in Montgomery again two days earlier. She said this would be referring to her moving in with Martin.

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It was Whitt’s first time dealing with Heifner, who she said wanted her out of the house immediately.

“Jesse was always a real pain,” Whitt said. “He had no class when it came to people. He was generally thinking you were subhuman when he was talking to someone. I felt like a dog.”

Whitt said she did not deal with Heifner much, and only saw any of the family at night most of the time.

She recalled a photo collage in the hallway of Martin’s home of Martin with several different kids, which Martin told her were foster children she had over the years. Whitt now believes the pictures to be of her former adopted children that she lost custody of in 2013 due to excessive corporal punishment.

“Oddly enough, Sebrina informed me she had no biological children and was incapable of having her own children,” Whitt recounted. “I was proud that if I could not raise my son, he was going to answer the prayers of a woman who I believed would be a great mom. She lied to me about so many things.

Before long, Martin and Heifner moved Whitt out to a rental home, where Whitt said she paid no rent or bills, even after she got a job and offered to begin paying.

She stayed at the Millbrook home for a year, nearly eight months after delivering her baby. 

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Signing the pregnancy plan

Sometime during that summer of 2016, Whitt said she met with Martin and Martin’s attorney, Katie O’Mallia, at their law office on Scott Street in Montgomery to discuss and sign a pregnancy plan.

“Halfway through the meeting, I was informed that Katie O’Mallia was not representing both me and Sebrina as I had believed before the meeting,” Whitt wrote in the bar complaint. “O’Mallia told me it was ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unnecessary’ to expect Sebrina to provide two separate attorneys for this meeting.”

As Whitt read through the documents, she was surprised to find restrictions such as having no skin-to-skin contact with her son.

“I started crying and became very distraught and raised my voice,” Whitt wrote. “I tried to discuss with Sebrina my desire to have that first few moments with my son and I felt like I was having to put Sebrina’s ‘needs’ before any of my own. O’Mallia informed me these were very standard requests during adoption and not a big deal with the process.”

Whitt said she was upset as Martin had not discussed these details before the meeting.

“This was a huge deal at the time because Sebrina never went into many details about anything, and this was the tipping point for me emotionally,” Whitt wrote. “I remember Sebrina reassuring me it was just my hormones and normal to be upset. I felt like I was being forced to sign even though no one was there on my side.”

Whitt said she was very clear that she never wanted Heifner to have custodial rights.

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“While I was living in the home with Sebrina and Jesse, it was very clear to me that Jesse was never to have any parental rights or ability to parent my child,” Whitt wrote. “Sebrina made it very clear to me that Jesse was only around to fulfill a father figure to her daughter and that they were ‘not together.’ Jesse was very intimidating and threatening in his demeanor and communication with me.”

Heifner is enjoined from being in the presence of Martin’s six former children unless Martin is also present. The court found that he administered corporal punishment resulting in the bruising of at least one of the six children. APR has listened to an audio recording the family said was provided to the court and has reviewed a hospital record detailing bruising to Jonathan’s upper thighs and lower back.

Martin lists Heifner as her husband on her statements of economic interest forms and they are partners at Montgomery Divorce Law.

APR also reviewed a home study document in the adoption of Whitt’s son by Martin, and Heifner is not mentioned and the document states no corporal punishment was used in the home. 

Whitt gives birth

Whitt gave birth to her son on December 20, 2016, via induced labor. Whitt recalled wanting to wait a few more days for a natural birth, but said Martin told her that was unfair to her and Hefiner’s family who had planned around the baby being born that day.

Whitt recalled asking to hold her baby.

“I will never forget asking Jesse to let me hold him, in which he looked at me and said I was the last person in that room who would get to hold him,” Whitt said.

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Heifner was not even supposed to be in the room, Whitt said, as she had expressed that Martin and Heifner’s mother be in the room during birth. When Whitt’s own mother called the hospital after learning her daughter was in labor, Whitt said O’Mallia came to the hospital “threatening to sue them if they allowed anyone else to communicate with me.”

“The entire episode at the hospital sparked an incredible emotional turmoil for me and I demanded to be released,” Whitt said. “I felt trapped and alone. Sebrina prevented my own mother from being with me.”

Putting the puzzle pieces together

The adoption was meant to be “open” according to Martin, Whitt said, and she did occasionally get to see her son for the first few years. 

A few years after giving birth, Whitt entered a relationship with a man who she opened up to about what happened, and he suggested to her that there may have been some misconduct and she should contact an attorney.

Whitt said she tried for some time to see if there was a case against Martin, but lawyers turned their noses whenever she revealed that another lawyer would be the subject of the suit.

Eventually, she stopped trying.

Sometime after APR published an article on Thursday, June 9 detailing how Martin lost custody of six children in 2013, Whitt said she began to be able to put the puzzle pieces together.

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Although she doesn’t know how her son is treated by Martin and Heifner, she said the accusations of the children formerly in their care were obviously cause for concern.

In the complaint, Whitt explains her intent behind sharing her story.

“Now that I have your attention, I only ask that an investigation be conducted concerning Sebrina Martin, Jesse Heifner and Katie O’Mallia and each of their actions in this matter,” Whitt wrote. “After having the opportunity to learn the rules governing lawyers with the state of Alabama, I believe each of these attorney violated ethical rules that they are required to uphold. How could she be representing my daughter and then ask to adopt my unborn child? How could any of them rightfully keep me away from my own attorney and family? I was threatened. I was bullied. I was preyed upon at the most vulnerable time in my life. Had I been encouraged to communicate with my attorney and obtain independent information, I would have never given my son up.”

Martin had not yet received the bar complaint when APR reached out to her requesting a response. APR provided a copy of the document to her and did not receive an additional response from Martin before publication.,

Last week, 32 family practice lawyers signed a letter addressed to the Alabama Democratic Party, Alabama Bar Association and Secretary of State asking for an investigation primarily into other matters regarding Martin’s statements of economic interest and some ballot shenanigans.

But at the end of that letter, the lawyers ask the “appropriate and able body” to investigate the confidential documents pertaining to the adoption of the two children in Martin’s custody for “further obfuscations, prevarications, and omissions.”

“It is unfathomable that, had the investigation been completed with accurate information, Martin would have been allowed to adopt,” the letter states. “Heifner is enjoined from being alone with her other children. It begs belief that two different adoptions were approved given the Indiana Order from 2013 if it was disclosed to the tribunal and to the adoption placement investigation. Either Martin was untruthful in the adoption process, or the system failed to protect the children she adopted.”

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Alabama Democratic Party chairman Chris England said a hearing is set for Friday in an election challenge filed against Martin that could lead to her being replaced as the nominee for family court judge on Montgomery’s 15th judicial circuit.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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