Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 2nd - Filling in for Juvenile Court

Friday, I covered the juvenile docket for our office's juvenile attorney, who was on vacation. I dealt with a swarm of kids and parents, all competing for my attention and some refusing to concede that I was talking with someone else. Some of the parents called their children names in the hallway and yelled profanities about the wait for their child's case to be called and about the burden of missing work to come to court. I explained to these parents that I was representing their kids and not them. They protested that their kids are not yet adults, refusing to understand that their kids were the individuals charged and facing penalties. These parents somehow felt like they could usurp their child's right to counsel and steer the course of what happened in court. Sometimes, all they seemed to care about was minimizing their time in the courthouse.

The parents can triple the number of people an attorney needs to talk with regarding a case. If my client refuses to waive confidentiality, I can't talk to his or her parents about the substance of the case, only about the procedure in court. Some parents get angry as if I am intentionally altering their family's power dynamic by inventing a suspicious-sounding thing called attorney-client privilege. On Friday, conveniently, I only was handling sentencings, reviews, and initial appearances in court, so the confidentiality issue didn't come up too much.

One teen told me that he wants to live with his father because his mother makes him sleep outside when she's mad at him. He also accused her of being a drunk. The Department of Juvenile Services had just finished a court-ordered home study of the father's residence to make sure it was a safe place. Everything checked out. The mom literally hissed and yelled out her protest when I asked the judge to allow the teen to live with his father. She clenched her fists by her side as if she planned on punching me.

The father has remarried, has a stable job, and secured a job for his son for the summer. He also lined up tutors to help his son transition into a new high school. My client's grades sunk to the depths of the alphabet last year. Anyway, the master (the individual who presides over juvenile court) insisted that the teen live with his mom because she lives in a county with better programs for juveniles. I approached the bench and told the master that I was concerned that part of my client's acting out related to the erratic supervision by and lack of support from his mother. The master told me that my client either could live with the mom and participate in that nirvana of a program or go to an out-of-home placement. The boy cried. The mom straightened her posture: vindicated. Who knows how things played out when the two of them got home...

The home study seems to me like a heads up to the family that the teen could move in with the father if everything checked out. The answer of the study: good home. The answer of the master after reading over the study's findings: irrelevant. Did the master think Juvenile Services would chastise the father? In the end, the master provided false hope to a teen who is having trouble coping. It was a long day in court.

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