February 2012 Archives

California Juvenile Court Hearing Officer Arrested, Then Resigns After Soliciting Kids For Sex

February 25, 2012,

A sitting juvenile court referee who regularly heard cases involving children was arrested last week according to Former Court Referee Accused Of Leading Double Life. Daniel Madden Horton's arrest shocked those who appeared in his court room.

Investigators say Horton lived a double life. Not only did he decide important cases involving children, he also posed as a modeling agent photographer, approaching teen girls and offering them money for nude photos or sex acts. Investigators say that Horton was caught asking two teen police decoys to pose nude for a magazine, join a masturbation club and make sex videos.

Horton resigned from his position after Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Earl immediately put Horton on leave last week. I imagine that parents who appeared in front of Horton are in disbelief and wonder how they could be judged for child abuse while Horton was allegedly abusing children when he was off the clock.

This case is reminiscent of the Texas Juvenile Court Judge who was caught on tape severely beating his daughter who had cerebral palsy (See Judge William Adams Beating Of Teen With Cerebral Palsy Sparks Outrage (VIDEO))

These men are, by definition, the worst kinds of hypocrites.

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Irvine Child Abuse Attorney Lauren K Johnson Speaks at U.C. Riverside About Juvenile Courts

February 20, 2012,

On January 20, 2012 I was a guest speaker at U.C. Riverside Extension 14th Annual Juvenile Law Institute on the topic of Open Court's Legislation. The topics of the Juvenile Law Dependency program included new dependency case law and legislative update, including the rules of court and new/revised Judicial Council court forms, current issues in dependency law, practice and procedures in the juvenile dependency court system, ethical issues and dilemmas, and views from the bench. In attendance were social workers, probation officers, mediators, therapists, court interpreters, paralegals, court personnel, psychologists, students and CASAs (court appointed special advocates).

In 90 minutes, I presented a comprehensive history of the open and closed juvenile courts systems across the country and the reasons cited for both opening and closing the courts. Participants had the opportunity to share their opinions on the topic in a collaborative discussion. I also discussed in some detail the recent efforts to open the juvenile courts in Los Angeles.

I also provided attendees with power point materials that included relevant case law authorities and excellent sources of information in the community. The program was a great success and I look forward to the opportunity to speak again to juvenile law practitioners.

I really enjoyed offering my expertise and knowledge of child abuse and juvenile law as both a juvenile dependency attorney and criminal attorney to this group in an interactive way.

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Orange County Man With 13 DUI Convictions Sentenced To Prison on Probation Violation

February 17, 2012,

In a sad story, the Orange County Register reports that Man with 13 DUI convictions sentenced for probation violation. Judge Thomas H. Goethals sentenced Dennis Malavasi to six years in prison for a probation violation resulting from his 13th DUI. Mr. Malavasi had convictions for driving under the influence dating back to the 1970's and missed the 10-year mark on his last DUI by only a few months. Driving under the influence is a "prior-able" offense and punishment becomes more severe after prior convictions for this crime. However, after 10 years, such prior enhancements wash out.

Mr. Malavasi had been given the opportunity to attend rehabilitation at the Salvation Army program. However, after a few months he checked himself out citing back pain. Many individuals with pain management problems self medicate with alcohol, according to the article Up to One Quarter of Pain Patients Self-Medicate With Alcohol. Experienced criminal attorneys know that in cases like this it is critical that the patient/client receive help not only with alcohol or substance abuse but also pain management to insure that the patient /client can successfully complete treatment. The same is true of underlying mental health issues.

Long term alcohol abuse has negative effects on overall health. Some of the increased risks of alcohol abuse include brain damage, liver failure, and an increased risk for some cancers, according to Effects of Alcohol - Health Effects of Alcohol.

I have represented many clients over the years in DUI and other related matters who have abused alcohol for decades. Some of my clients suffered not only serious health problems from alcohol abuse but also cognitive impairment. Even short-term drinking has been linked to memory loss according to Short-Term Drinking Has Long-Term Effects.

It is critical for criminal defense attorneys to recognize when a client has an alcohol problem and to link clients to treatment. Treatment works and many people have turned their lives around after receiving treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

In many cases, including drug cases, DUI, domestic violence, child abuse, juvenile dependency, juvenile delinquency, and other cases that are alcohol-related, it is important for the attorney to get to the root of the problem and help a client when they want help. Treatment can also be an excellent alternative to incarceration for many clients. I have helped hundreds of clients avoid incarceration and punishment by guiding them to treatment resources, some of which are low-cost.

Clients seeking an attorney in an alcohol-related case should be sure that the attorney they hire is knowledgeable about alcohol abuse and treatment options and is sensitive to the client's predicament.

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Los Angeles Juvenile Courts Opened as of February 2012

February 15, 2012,

As he had promised, Presiding Judge Michael Nash has ordered the Juvenile Courts opened for Los Angeles, California's juvenile courts, according to the L.A. Times' L.A. judge orders Juvenile Court opened to press. The move has not gone without criticism and now the Children's Law Center has filed a law suit over it according to the L.A. Times' Group sues over L.A. judge's decision to open juvenile courts.

I believe reasonable people can disagree on where the balance should tip in favor of the public's right to know about what happens in juvenile court and foster youth's desire to have their cases heard confidentially. However, the forces behind the movement to keep the juvenile courts closed- - held in secret outside the purview of the press and the public - - are not solely interested in protecting kids' privacy

In the United States, there is no fundamental right of anyone to have their court case heard in secret. Some people may believe that they should advocate for confidentiality for foster youth in these cases because of a desire to protect children. This comes from an altruistic place, however, the juvenile courts have tried this experiment. The result has led to adult actors in the juvenile courts- - social workers, attorneys and judges- - becoming the true beneficiaries of the benefits of secrecy. The belief that confidentiality benefits children starts with the premise that the system and its adult participants are serving children well behind closed doors. This is the first problem.

Parents don't believe the system is working to protect their kids and reunify their families. Parents' attorneys don't believe the system is working. Bench officers like Judge Nash do not believe the system is working as is. Youth die in foster care and fall through the cracks, and parents don't reunify with their kids no matter how many hoops they jump through. Social workers mistake illness and accidents for abuse or lie to courts to obtain outcomes they want. As a result, tax payers in California have paid huge judgments against their counties in civil rights and civil liability law suits (See County loses $4.9 million lawsuit challenge over lying social workers.) The system is broken.

If you start from that point of view that this system is not best serving children and families, you believe something has to change. I practice regularly in the juvenile courts. I put on a suit and go to work and fight for my clients. I know my clients, prepare them for court, prepare my cases, subpoena witnesses, investigate claims, and work with experts in preparing my clients' cases. I file motions, call witnesses, and advocate on my clients' behalf. I have nothing to hide if the court system was open and, even though my clients are sometimes embarrassed and sad that they are part of this system, they would rather have an open court that treats them fairly and in the eye of the public rather than in secret. When you believe that open juvenile courts can lead to change in the way adult professionals conduct themselves in this system - - requiring attorneys to actually met their clients, being prepared, and advocating competently, social workers to do their jobs and tell the truth, judges to act fairly and impartially while exercising independent judgment of the case before them - - the issue is a no-brainer.

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Orange Country Traffic Accident Not Caused By Texting, Driver Says

February 5, 2012,

Last week, a San Diego Woman caused an accident that took another woman's life on an Orange County freeway, according to Driver in Fatal Crash Says Wasn't Distracted. Early reports of the accident suggested that the driver had been texting. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15 people are killed and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes each day that were reported to involve a distracted driver. In 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes and about 448,000 people were injured in accidents that in involved a distracted driver.

Jorene Nicolas has reported that she was not distracted while driving and told police that her cell phone was in the cup holder. She also denied drinking and driving. Yet the family of the victim is not convinced.

Nicolas faces charges from the accident. Her lawyers stated that he will be able to produce phone records to support her claim that she was not texting while driving. Phone records are frequently offered into evidence in criminal cases and may be of benefit to the defense in this case if they can show that Ms. Nicolas was not texting at the time of the accident.

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Orange County California Iraq War Veteran Faces Four Counts of Murder; DA Calls It "Thrill Kill"

February 3, 2012,

According to Reuter's article, Prosecutor says Iraq war vet killed transients for "thrill", a 23 year-old Iraq War veteran, Itzcoatl Ocampo, has been chared with four counts of murder than include special circumstance allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted for the death of four Orange County homeless men. The crimes drew attention to the homeless population in Orange County, if only for a period of time, as it appeared the suspected killer targeted homeless people.

Some of the men who were killed were stabbed more than 50 times and video footage captured the killer dressed in dark clothes and he kneeled on on of the victim's chests while stabbing him in the neck and upper torso. According to USA Today's Man detained after homeless vet killed, one of the victims was a Vietnam War veteran.

The District Attorney is claiming that Ocampo engaged in a "thrill kill" and derived pleasure from the killings. I think he's missing the mark. According to the www.veteransnewroom.com's Fact Sheet, nearly 20% of the 300,000 of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those numbers continue to climb. In fact, in 2005, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that PTSD was the fourth most common service-related disability that service members received benefits for. It is believed that an additional 320,000 returning veterans may have experienced traumatic brain injuries during deployment.

It is not simply ironic that an Iraq War Veteran killed a homeless Vietnam War Veteran. According to the National Coalition For Homeless Veterans, approximately 67,000 veterans are homeless every night. One cause is that a large number of homeless veterans live with the lingering effects of PTSD and substance abuse and lack family and social support resources.

Anyone who has provided social, legal, mental health or community services to a wide-scale population can tell you anecdotally that many have seen how PTSD and other mental health issues impact veterans. Ignoring the true impact of war is an injustice to service members and to the families and communities who support them. Yet it is hardly any wonder that this prosecutor, who is a figurehead in the local Republican party, refuses to even acknowledge the connection between war and mental health and has already characterized this case in this light.

Any thoughtful person has to wonder what evidence the DA will offer to support his theory that this was a "thrill kill." You don't have to be a psychologist to have doubts about this legal theory based on what we know about veterans coming back from Iraq. If the suggestion will be that this Iraq War veteran is somehow a dangerous war machine that must be put to death to be stopped from harming others, or even that he joined the military to commit violence as opposed to having witnessed it on the battlefield, I won't be surprised, but I will be outraged.

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