The Pasadena Star News took advantage of the new open juvenile court rule in L.A. last week and described what they saw in Rare look at children’s court finds tension runs high.
For private attorneys like me who practice in the juvenile courts and have been pushing for an open courts system through legislation or mandate, what the press found was no surprise. One court-appointed attorney was woefully unaware that his client was sitting right next to him. That same attorney was later reprimanded for not having a client’s file in court. “You’ve got to pull it together,” the judge told him before taking him in the back.
The same judge later ordered a social worker to attend a sanction meeting after the worker failed to file paperwork on time for a hearing. While the social worker claimed the delay was due to a “family emergency,” the judge didn’t seem to believe her. The department faces sanctions at a future hearing.
The court heard 24 cases that day. The attorneys in court seemed extremely nervous to have the press reporting. According the the article, the attorneys appointed to these juvenile cases only receive $680 per case. This is not adequate funding to handle the most important type of legal proceedings a family can ever face. But lawyers in this system don’t complain about pay. According to LADL supervising attorney Marlene Furth, “The one thing they say, the one thing, is that they don’t have time to talk with their clients.”
I worked as a Deputy Public Defender for 5 years, 1 1/2 of those years representing parents in juvenile dependency court. If I did not have adequate time to talk to my client, I did not go forward in a court hearing. If I needed more time, I told the court I needed more time. I would not represent a client if I was not prepared, under any circumstance. No attorney should be bullied for any reason to commit malpractice because s/he is not adequately prepared and every client deserves to have an attorney who knows who they are, has spent adequate time with them, and who zealously advocates for them. That is what the profession demands. Anything less is unacceptable.
I am so glad that the courts are open in L.A. and I hope the press will continue to report on these issues. This reporter did not have to go from court room to court room looking for problems to report. All he had to do is go sit in any court room and WATCH. Some court- appointed attorneys do an outstanding job for their clients. But sadly, many court-appointed lawyers don’t know who their clients are, are not prepared, or just don’t have time to do the job competently.
These types of reports are long overdue and are likely just the tip of the iceberg. The public needs to know what is happening for there to be change. And if you were wondering why the parents’ attorneys in L.A. were so adamantly against opening the juvenile courts, now you know for sure.
Lauren K Johnson represents parents in criminal and juvenile child abuse/neglect cases.