Be prepared to walk into the Los Angeles Superior Court Edelman D. Edelman Children’s Court for the first time. This morning, I was waiting on the first floor lobby for the detention calendar. That is the list of children being brought into court for the first time and what courtroom the case will be assigned. The line stretches like a morning at the DMV throughout the lobby hall.
As I waited, I saw a little girl in a wheelchair with a cast on her left leg. Her younger sister accidently bumped into her leg causing her to grimace. I foolishly presumed it was a sports related injury and attempted to empathize with her about my old basketball injuries. The little girl informed me that she was shot by a gun multiple times in her leg. As I looked closer, I noticed that her entire leg was swollen beyond comprehension.
As Hawthorne said “American families are rising and falling these days.” You cannot even begin to comprehend the falls and trauma to families that occurs at the Edmund D. Edelman’s Court on a daily basis. Some kids and families belong in court and others are victims of corporatized thinking of the judges and social workers that tear families apart to cover their behinds. As much as the social workers are to blame for some of the injustices that occur in court so are the judges. Knowing what judges are fair and which ones to avoid at all costs is the first step to fighting against DCFS and getting your children back.
It takes about an hour to get your court assignment. No big screen exists to show you your court assignment like in traffic court or in Orange County. Knowing that the line would not process for an hour leaves me to a seat in the lobby, my I phone, and cup of coffee. My client is awaiting on another floor on my advice to shield her children from the stress of the morning detention line.
As the rest of the line stood uncomfortably trying to find out where their case would be assigned, I spot an attorney that sues DCFS for civil rights violations headed to the elevators. He has recovered millions due to DCFS misconduct. Not many attorneys exist with the fire in their belly to sue DCFS. We catch up and I inquire if he is working on anything interesting. He informs me that in a recent deposition of an Emergency Social Worker Supervisor that he was informed that she cannot recall ONE TIME a judge from the court deny a warrant from her to remove a child from their parents.
Emergency Social Workers (ER Workers) are the first responders to the 170,000 child abuse and neglect referrals received in Los Angeles each year. ER Workers go out to investigate referrals and write the warrants and reports that initially get children taken away from their parents. That means social workers bat almost 100% when they file warrants to remove children from their parents. My friend and I are not surprised given our experiences with the judges. I have not verified the information about warrants and I do not know if any way exists to track that information. I would be interested to see the statistics if they exist. In my experience once a warrant is signed by a judge you almost always lose the children in the detention hearing. How do you combat these conservative judges and fight back to give yourself the best chance to claw your kids out of a foster home?
Depending on which judge is assigned my client’s case, I feel strongly that my client’s children will be returned to her care. Even though the warrant was signed by the judge, the facts are extremely weak and old. The courthouse has about 20 Judges hearing every child abuse and neglect case filed by LA DCFS in the county. I am armed with a pre-drafted affidavit of prejudice also known as a paper or 170.6 to get a new judge if I feel the one assigned to our case today is too prejudice and lacking in the courage to do the right thing for children. To obtain a 170.6 you need to print Los Angeles Superior Court Local Form LACIV 15.
In layman terms, each party can file one 170.6. This allows each party to one time challenge that the judge hearing the case will be prejudiced and not fair. This allows the case to be transferred to another random judge. Each party only gets one 170.6 so after that you are stuck with the next judge, who could be worse than the one you papered. If you and the other parents are aligned to fight DCFS you might have access to one more.
It is now 9:15 a.m. and courts opened 45 minutes ago. As, I sit there next to the little girl shot with the swollen leg, I grow impatient about my client’s fate. Seeing the line grow even bigger, I can’t take it anymore. Finally, I receive a text message back from an old friend with access to the detention calendar. He informs me where the case is assigned. It is not good news.
The case was assigned to a very conservative judge. Lawyers refer to these types of judges as rubber stamps to the department’s recommendations. It is not a good thing that this judge has over 10 years experience in dependency law. Without hesitation, I hand my client the 170.6 and tell her to sign. The judge is an old rubber stamp, who lost the path of justice for corporate thinking of child abuse years ago. I would rather end up anywhere but with this judge because I know he will only do what the social worker tells him to do. My client deserves a fair hearing.
I filed the 170.6 by 10:00am. I did this because the judges get upset if you file them late in the day. The case was not transferred to another courtroom until 11:00 am. The sitting and waiting was draining. The report with all of the allegations and statements from the social worker did not arrive until 10:30 am. A grossly inefficient process.
The newly assigned judge is liberal. I breathe a big sigh of relief. I feel absolutely confident my client’s children are coming home. This judge is new and has not been pressured to conform to the politics of child welfare system in Los Angeles. I have worked with enough new judges in children’s court to know that they all have high ambitions of justice and want to do the right thing not blinded by dependency court politics. Right now I know from my sources that this judge only cares about doing the right thing. Not only that, but the judge knows the law and actually applies it due to his experience in the California Court of Appeals drafting opinions in dependency law as a research assistant. He has only been on the bench a few months and not polluted by culture of fear in dependency court. I spoke with several lawyers who all confirmed that my client lucked out with her 170.6 challenge.
The fist pounds and smiles soon turned to anxiety. The social worker’s attorney, the county counsel filed their one 170.6 and the case was transferred to another courtroom. The county counsel papered the case because the judge had been sending too many kids home over their objections. The social worker’s attorney correctly figured it was more likely that my client’s kids would be placed in foster care with another judge. I cursed the system like Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin at their best. This is not the first time that DCFS has “blanket papered” or DCFS will paper every case that goes to this judge and not allow him to hear any cases because he is too likely to return children to their parents over DCFS’ objections. The judges who see the big picture for families are neutralized by DCFS.
It took another 45 minutes to figure out the next courtroom that the case would be sent. As I waited in suspense, I knew that another 170.6 could land us into three courts that were still open and worse than a trier of fact in 1984 or Game of Thrones. My client and I discussed our limited options.
The case was finally assigned to a judge that I would rank the 10th best out of 20 judges. My gut said that she had been working there too long to do the right thing and send the kids home on the first hearing. The father of the child and my client the mother were aligned. With my 170.6 in the dust, I had only one more 170.6 left that I could use with my influence to file. After that I would be stuck with the next judge no matter what.
I spoke with every attorney that I trusted that had spent significant time with the new judge. The verdict was a 50/50 chance she would send the kids home. In dependency at a detention hearing with a signed warrant these are great odds. The risk of going to one of the other rubberstamp judges was too much. We decided as a team to stay put and not file our last 170.6.
In the end, always listen to your gut. Over the objection of all counsel except for the county counsel, the judge put a 16, 12, and 4 year old boy in foster care. The 16 year old has now run away as he threatened. No one knows where this is little boy is at this time. The family is torn apart. In my opinion, the facts were so weak that at least five other judges in the building would have sent the kids home, due to their ages and time that had elapsed since DCFS began their investigation without further incident. Too bad we could not get assigned to one of those judges today.
On the morbid bright side, the judge gave the department discretion to release all children to the parents and requested that the next social worker’s report address if a 301 contract is appropriate. A 301 contract means that the case is dismissed and the family not formally supervised by the court, but by DCFS for six months (like informal probation). Between me and the other attorneys aligned with me, we had about 50 years of experience in the trenches of dependency court. We all concurred that the judge thought the case weak, but put the kids in foster care until the parents enrolled in classes for therapy and anger management. The judge stated in his decision that what would happen if the mother “hit someone” in a fit of anger even though she never had before. Now a 16 year old is on the streets due to the judge’s unwillingness to stand up and do the right thing. The system requires parents to do classes because it gets rid of liability like when someone gets DUI and goes to all of their classes and gets their license back.
The judges like the social workers are a big part of the problem of why Los Angeles has the largest child welfare system in the world. However, no one wants to admit that or has the power to change them. Parents that step into the children’s court front doors for the first time must know of their 170.6 options. Parents on their first day of court that do not show up with a private attorney (like me) are given court appointed attorneys. These attorneys regularly do not advise their clients of their 170.6 rights. I know this because I worked there for four years. When you walk into court for the first time make sure to ask your court appointed attorney about your judge and your options of getting a better one. Although, I lost this 170.6 battle, I have filed many 170.6 challenges that have resulted in kids going to one of the few decent and fair judges in the building and back home to their parents on the first hearing after a warrant was signed. If you are stepping into the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court for the first time and using a court appointed lawyer, make sure to have the 170.6 conversation. Otherwise, you may not be informed that your judge is nothing more than an old rubberstamp of the social worker’s recommendations more interested in clearing their calendar for the day than stepping up for children. If you are unable to build a rapport with your social worker and stuck with a bad judge it is a recipe for disaster.
170.6. (a) (1) A judge, court commissioner, or referee of a superior court of the State of California shall not try a civil or criminal action or special proceeding of any kind or character nor
hear any matter therein that involves a contested issue of law or fact when it is established as provided in this section that the judge or court commissioner is prejudiced against a party
or attorney or the interest of a party or attorney appearing in the action or proceeding.
(2) A party to, or an attorney appearing in, an action or proceeding may establish this prejudice by an oral or written motion without prior notice supported by affidavit or declaration
under penalty of perjury, or an oral statement under oath, that the judge, court commissioner, or referee before whom the action or proceeding is pending, or to whom it is assigned, is
prejudiced against a party or attorney, or the interest of the party or attorney, so that the party or attorney cannot, or believes that he or she cannot, have a fair and impartial trial or
hearing before the judge, court commissioner, or referee.