Ca Pro Se Help

http://www.cand.uscourts.gov/helpcentersj

The Federal Legal Assistance Self-Help Center at the San Jose Courthouse (FLASH)

Are you thinking about filing a case or are you already representing yourself in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California – San Jose Division and need legal advice? If so, you may speak with a lawyer at the Federal Legal Assistance Self-Help Center (FLASH). There is no fee for this service. The lawyer can give you:

  • Information to help you understand the federal court processes and procedures that you need to follow;
  • Explanations of court orders and other paperwork;
  • Answers to your legal questions; and
  • Referrals to appropriate legal, social, and government services.

Location & Hours

United States Courthouse
280 South 1st Street
4th Floor, Room 4093 & 4095
San Jose, CA 95113
Phone: 408-297-1480

Regular office hours are Mondays & Tuesdays, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m; Wednesdays by appointment.

Services

The FLASH attorney will provide information about legal rights and responsibilities and about the court procedures applicable to your case, limited-scope legal advice, help preparing simple pleadings, and referrals to legal, social, and government services. If you seek help from FLASH, you will still represent yourself. The attorney at FLASH can provide information, advice and basic legal help but does not represent litigants as their lawyer.

If you do not speak English or have difficulty with English, please bring someone to your appointment who can translate for you. FLASH cannot provide a translator.

Who May Use FLASH

Anyone who is representing him/herself as a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil case in the San Jose division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, or who is considering filing a complaint in that division. This service is not available to litigants who have legal representation.

How to Make an Appointment

Help is provided by appointment only. To make an appointment:

  1. Stop by FLASH and sign up in person or
  2. Call  408-297-1480
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Under the United States Constitution 14th Amendent Children Rights

Under the United States Constitution 14th Amendent Children Rights; One is free from Government involvement: Also, California law confers discretion on the court to grant “reasonable visitation” rights “to any other person [a nonparent] having an interest in the welfare of the child.” [Ca Fam § 3100(a) –“reasonable visitation may be ordered to any other person . . .” (emphasis added); Barkaloff v. Woodward (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 393, 398, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 167, 170], get familiar with this: “However, this right is limited. Parents have a 14th Amendment substantive due process “fundamental right” (a “liberty interest”) to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children. A state law that, as applied, allows trial courts to grant nonparent visitation rights over a parent’s objection whenever the court determines such visitation may serve the child’s best interest, unconstitutionally infringes on that right. [Troxel v. Granville (2000) 530 U.S. 57, 65-70, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 2060-2062 (invalidating application of Wash. statute authorizing grandparent visitation solely on “best interest” showing] ” read more at www.leginfo.ca.gov
Official California Legislative Information
www.leginfo.ca.gov

DHS denies child-death files to panel

Read some of the emails between DHS commissioners and director Howard Hendrick. http://www.tulsaworld.com/webextra/content/items/DHSemails.pdf

 

A child advocacy group legally obligated to investigate child deaths was allegedly denied access to investigative files of a high-profile case by attorneys with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, according to emails obtained by the Tulsa World through the state’s Open Records Act.

Email correspondence in DHS suggests tension among commissioners and extensive involvement by the agency’s legal department in matters ranging from raising child-care fees to information released on a child’s death.

The Tulsa World requested on Sept. 20 all email correspondence between DHS Director Howard Hendrick and the commissioners on the oversight board starting in January 2011. Documents dating to Sept. 10 were received on Jan. 11.

Most of the correspondence shows commissioner Steven Dow pressing for information on specific child-death cases, asking about budget items, inquiring about a mandated organizational review and questioning a move that would have increased child-care fees on low-income families.

Dow is the executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County and holds a law degree from Yale University.

While the emails show friction between commissioners and DHS officials, the tenor has shifted significantly since October with the appointment of two new board members and changes in commission governance, Dow said.

Spirit of openness

“There is a 180-degree difference,” Dow said. “The new leadership of chairman Brad Yarbrough has approached everything with a spirit of openness and a level of energy with respect to the rule of law and how each commissioner should be able to participate and do their job the way we want to do it.”

DHS withheld 189 emails, citing attorney-client privilege. An additional 18 emails were withheld, cited as confidential by statutes regarding child welfare.

Spokeswoman Sheree Powell said staff attorneys reviewed all the emails. The attorney-client privilege refers to when they were copied on correspondence about pending lawsuits or investigations.

It appears from the emails that the DHS legal department has a heavy say in all programs, requests for information and daily decisions. The agency has 14 staff attorneys, with salaries ranging from $71,430 to $109,727.

On Aug. 15, the director of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth wrote Dow about a meeting she had with DHS director of field operations Larry Johnson on July 21, going under the impression her staff would be able to review an internal investigation into the death of Serenity Deal.

Serenity was a 5-year-old Oklahoma City girl who died June 4 after being beaten by her father, who was given custody by DHS workers.

“Unfortunately, we were told by Larry that (DHS) legal would not allow us to read it at that time as he held up some report from a distance,” stated Lisa Smith. “I told Larry to feel free to notify (DHS) legal staff that if they were uncomfortable with allowing OCCY access, OCCY would go get a court order for its release.”

OCCY has legal authority under Oklahoma Statute Title 10 to obtain information from DHS files for reports on child deaths. It does not specify the information has to be a final report. They do not have access to certain personnel files.

‘Cleaned up’

Smith wrote that at a July 22 meeting with DHS officials on another matter, agency attorney Bonnie Clift said the report needed to be “cleaned up” before OCCY could have it. Smith was denied the report by DHS officials on Aug. 8 and received it in the form of a press release on Aug. 10.

Clift denied making those comments to Smith, stating in an Aug. 12 email to DHS head general counsel Charles Waters that the only documents available were “preliminary drafts.”

“As to any draft of personnel action documents, those are not available until they are final actions,” Clift wrote. “I know of many discussions that I have been in about the Deal case, but none with Lisa Smith and none with commissioner Dow.”

Powell said the incident was a misunderstanding, and Clift was referring to cleaning up misspellings and grammar errors. She said the report was about possible policy violations by personnel, not an investigatory report.

“The emails make it sound like something sinister was happening, but it was really something that was misconstrued,” Powell said. “It really is a good working relationship we have with OCCY. We understand their role, and they understand ours.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have occasional disagreements, but overall we have a good relationship. We have a valuable partnership with them.”

Smith declined to comment, saying the OCCY has a pending complaint with DHS about the Deal case.

In June, Dow asked then-commission chairman Richard DeVaughn for a special meeting to discuss the Serenity Deal case and received no reply. In July, he wrote an email pushing for information about the events leading up to the girl’s death.

Hendrick responded on July 25, stating two court transcripts were still unavailable, and it was “the opinion of our legal staff that we should not issue a report until those transcripts are reviewed.”

Deaths of children

Dow responded that same day: “I disagree. I believe that we are entitled to be briefed on what we know after this much time has passed.”

DHS commissioners and officials received public criticism from lawmakers, prosecutors and child advocates last year after several high-profile deaths of children from abuse and neglect.

Deposition testimony from commissioners in a federal class-action lawsuit found many did not read a critical legislative audit of the agency, were not aware of key statistics regarding foster placements and abuse in care and did not know the child welfare division had lost its national accreditation, which is required by law.

The lawsuit, filed by New York-based nonprofit Children’s Rights, reached a settlement agreement earlier this month, and approval from a federal judge is pending.

Dow sent a request March 26 asking for relevant pleadings and court decisions regarding a lawsuit filed against the agency more than five years ago by media outlets seeking names of foster parents.

A story published in the Tulsa World about the arrest of a foster parent included an update on the suit filed by television station KOKI-23 in October 2006 with the Tulsa World joining the suit in August 2007. It requests the names and dates of birth of foster parents so reporters can check available public records for placements not in compliance with the law.

“Not sure if other commission members would be interested, but I don’t seem to recall any mention of it in any executive session that I’ve attended,” Dow stated.

An assistant attorney responded with an attached copy of a monthly legal-activities report distributed in the July 2010 executive session when the case was discussed.

Powell said Waters decides what litigation information to provide commissioners, and provides an executive summary each month during their executive session. The summary contains statistical data and significant developments on cases during the month.

Critical editorial

In response to a critical editorial in The Oklahoman, a press release was sent Sept. 9 to media outlets by commissioners Richard DeVaughn, who was chairman, and Aneta Wilkinson, who was vice chairman, defending the agency.

Dow sent them and Hendrick an email asking who decided to write the release.

“I was a bit surprised to see this news release yesterday, as several members of the media contacted me about it and asked for comments, even though I had no idea that it had been issued until they provided me a copy of it,” Dow stated.

In September, Gov. Mary Fallin appointed to the commission former Oklahoma County district attorney Wes Lane and Yarbrough, who took over as chairman. House Speaker Kris Steele appointed a legislative work group to review the DHS program for possible reform.

“Yes, it’s certainly a difficult time in the agency’s history to take a position on the team, but that’s when it is even more important to serve,” Yarbrough wrote to Hendrick on Sept. 9. “There’s important work that lies ahead, Howard. Many are expecting, rightfully so, that the commission strengthen its oversight of the agency.

“The voices are getting louder and it sounds like a mandate which requires a dutiful response. Let’s join together and continue our commitment to express His love in service to others.”

Lane is chairman of a new subcommittee charged with reviewing all deaths of people in DHS custody. The committee is made up of mostly non-DHS staff.

Commissioner Anne Roberts compiled a list of all state groups charged with reviewing such deaths, particularly regarding child abuse, in a Sept. 29 email. She stated all had a connection to OCCY.

“So perhaps a good place for us to start would be to invite OCCY Director Lisa Smith to our first committee meeting,” Roberts wrote.

Smith said her staff made a presentation to the subcommittee and is open to having an audience with the full commission.
Original Print Headline: DHS keeps files from panel

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20120122_11_A19_Achild904520

Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
ginnie.graham@tulsaworld.com
By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer

Copyright 2012 World Publishing Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Fired CASA director threatens lawsuit

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20120122/NEWS/201220335/Fired-CASA-director-threatens-lawsuit?odyssey=tab%7Cmostpopular%7Ctext%7CNEWS

Fired CASA director threatens lawsuit

She says program to help foster children has many problems

Pam Sornson, former director of Marion County CASA, says that the advocacy program for foster children has problems. She hopes a lawsuit will draw attention to the issues. / Statesman Journal file
Written by
Tracy Loew
Statesman Journal
  • FILED UNDER

The former director of Marion County CASAplans to file a federal lawsuit against her former employer, the county, and the state Commission on Children and Families.

In a tort claim notice filed last July, Pam Sornson claims a host of violations, including breach of her free speech rights, defamation, wrongful discharge, and violation of Oregon’s whistleblower law.

A tort claim notice lets a government entity know of potential claims.

In an interview, Sornson said she plans to file her lawsuit this week. She said she hopes the lawsuit draws attention to what she says are problems plaguing CASA programs statewide.

“I’m as much interested in fixing the situation as anything else,” Sornson said.

Since 1987, the Oregon Legislature has appropriated money each biennium for the state’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, programs.

The Oregon Commission on Children and Families allocates that money, along with some federal funds, to each county’s Commission on Children and Families.

The counties in turn contract with about 30 nonprofit or government organizations — including Marion County CASA — to carry out the actual programs, which match volunteer advocates with children in foster care.

In her tort claim notice, Sornson says she discovered that the state commission was allocating funds unequally among counties.

Sornson says she was retaliated against for trying to achieve a more equitable allocation, and for advocating for improvements to what she says is a disorganized, ineffective statewide system of serving the state’s most needy children.

Sornson, a lawyer, joined the Marion County CASA board of directors in fall 2003 and became its chairwoman in June 2004.

In July 2005, she resigned from the board to become the agency’s executive director. She was fired on March 15, 2011.

In her tort claim, Sornson says that when she started, the agency had no policies or procedures to guide the volunteer advocates. She researched state and national laws and best practices, and developed an extensive reference manual and training program.
In doing that work, Sornson told the Statesman Journal, she discovered the following problems:

-Unequal allocation of state and federal funds to counties.

In the past two biennia, the state commission allocated $87,317 per year to Marion County for an average of 1,000 foster children, or $83 per child. It allocated $13,250 to Wheeler County to serve an average of three children, or $4,417 per child, Sornson’s data shows.

Four counties reported no volunteer advocates but received state funding for a CASA program, she said.

-A high turnover rate for directors of the nonprofit organizations that run the programs.

According to Sornson’s research, 22 of the state’s CASA programs had a total of 65 directors during the past five years. Columbia County CASA has had six directors since 2005, she said.

The high turnover means programs repeatedly pay for training and lack consistency. An additional problem, she said, is that there are no experience or training requirements for CASA directors.

-Inconsistencies among the county programs and a lack of training and support for volunteers in many of those programs.

In summer of 2010, Sornson became involved in a group working to reinstate the Oregon CASA Association, a lapsed nonprofit organization aiming to improve CASA programs across the state.

She joined the board of directors of the reconstituted group, along with Polk County CASA director Chris Olson; retired Circuit Court Judge Charles Luukinen; state Rep. Jim Thompson; lawyer Steven McCarthy; and Lee Effinger, a volunteer advocate for Marion County CASA.

According to Sornson’s tort claim notice, the group was concerned that the Oregon Commission on Children and Families had no relation to the courts or child welfare system and was not providing proper oversight of local programs.

In December 2010 and January 2011, Sornson, Polk County’s Olson and McCarthy began meeting with legislators to discuss equitable funding for CASA programs and the possibility of moving CASA administration from the Oregon Commission on Children and Families to the Oregon Judicial Department, Sornson said.

Sornson thinks the Oregon Commission on Children and Families retaliated against her for that advocacy, pressuring Marion County to force the Marion CASA Board to fire her.

She provided documents showing:

-On Feb. 7, 2011, the Oregon Commission on Children and Families sent letters to the county Commission on Children and Families in both Marion and Polk counties, saying their CASA directors’ advocacy with the legislature was a possible violation of state rules.

Polk County responded that it believed no violation had occurred, but the Marion County Commission on Children and Families launched an investigation, asking judges and the state Department of Human Services whether they had any problems with the local CASA organization and requesting documents and information from the group.

-On Feb. 28, Alison Kelley, head of the Marion County Commission on Children and Families, sent a letter to the Marion County CASA Board saying the program was in breach of its contract, for a variety of reasons, and was in danger of being terminated.

Sornson said that at the March 9, 2011, Marion County CASA Board meeting, the board pressured her to stop talking with legislators. In order to save her job, Sornson agreed, she said.

On March 15, Marion County CASA Board members Irene Trent-Valencia and Jim Lewis gave Sornson a letter asking for her resignation in lieu of termination. Sornson refused and was fired, she said. Trent-Valencia was appointed interim executive director.

“There’s really been not a glitch in the program,” Trent-Valencia said in March 2011, days after Sornson was fired. “Nothing is wrong. Our program is excellent.”

“This was orchestrated by the state commission and carried out by the local commission,” Sornson said in an interview.

Kelley declined to comment on the allegations and potential lawsuit, as did Trent-Valencia, Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson, and Irene Bell, interim transition director of the Oregon Commission on Children and Families.

tloew@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6779 or follow at twitter.com/SJWatchdog

Couple who fled Scotland to escape social workers celebrate birth of second child

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2011/12/18/couple-who-fled-scotland-to-escape-social-workers-celebrate-birth-of-second-child-86908-23644422/

Couple who fled Scotland to escape social workers celebrate birth of second child

Dec 18 2011 By Fiona Young, Sunday Mail

kerry mcdougall Image 1kerry mcdougall Image 1

SHE was once dismissed by social workers as not bright enough to get married, let alone become a mum.

But Kerry McDougall is celebrating the birth of her second baby – after fleeing to Ireland from Fife to stop social workers taking her first child into care.

Kerry, 19, husband Mark, 28, Ben, nearly two, and new baby Lochlan are now looking forward to a perfect family Christmas.

“Having another baby is a dream come true,” said Kerry.

“Lochlan is beautiful and Ben adores him. We both feel so lucky to have two gorgeous boys.”

The arrival of the tot marks the end of a dramatic two-year battle to stay together as a family.

In September 2009, Fife Council social services halted their wedding just 48 hours before the big day.

Kerry has mild learning difficulties and her upbringing had been overseen by social workers.

As the wedding appoached, two of them knocked on the door of the Dunfermline home she shared with Mark.

They made the shattering announcement that Kerry did not possess the mental capacity to make the decision to get married.

Mark, an artist, says: “Everything was booked – the dress, the reception, food and flowers but we had to cancel the lot and call all the guests. It was devastating.”

Worse was to come when, according to the couple, social workers said they believed pregnant Kerry wasn’t bright enough to be a mum and warned their baby could be taken into care at birth.

So they fled to Ireland in the middle of the night. Kerry, who was eight months pregnant when they went on the run, said: “Leaving my friends and family was terrible but I was desperate to keep my baby.”

Friends put them up and in January last year, Kerry gave birth to Ben. Then the Irish authorities discovered through her medical records that social workers had concerns.

They were legally bound to follow them up and, as Kerry breastfed three-day-old Ben, officials turned up and took him into care.

Mark said: “We begged them not to take him. I was on my knees.” Kerry added: “Coming home without Ben was the worst thing that ever happened.”

After a nine-month investigation the couple, who had been allowed to visit Ben in foster care, were able to bring him home.

After discovering the wedding ban did not cover Ireland, they got married there. Kerry is delighted with how things have turned out.

Speaking from their home in Tramore, near Waterford, she said: “With a lively toddler and a new baby, life is busy. But I love being a mum and couldn’t be happier.”

Although happy in Ireland, they miss Scotland but can’t risk coming back. Mark said: “If we did, both our sons could be taken into care.

“Here, the authorities have helped keep our family together and we are allowed to bring up our sons without having to look over our shoulders.”

Fife Council social work director Stephen Moore said yesterday: “We wish the family all the very best.

“If they need our assistance in the future, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek it out. We’ll be there for them.”

Mother in UK flees abroad with her son to escape social workers

Social workers have been accused of trying to seize a six-year-old boy from his mother despite having no evidence that she has ever harmed him.

The 33-year-old woman fled to Ireland with her son in a bid to prevent social services taking him back into care. The British authorities maintain the boy suffered “emotional harm” while witnessing his father’s violent rages against the mother and needs to be placed with a foster family.

But his mother, who has separated from the father, says social workershave never argued that she posed a danger to him and therefore have no case against her.

Devon social services are going to an Irish court in the next few weeks with an international warrant demanding the return of the child, who cannot be identified and is known as Boy L, into their care.

The case is among the thousands being dealt with each year by the secretive family courts system, which Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, promised to open up to greater public scrutiny.

The Sunday Telegraph has led calls for the media to have access to the courts as a way of ensuring that justice is seen to be done, while still protecting the privacy of the children involved.

The latest case remains shrouded in secrecy as it predates Mr Straw’s moves to allow the proceeds of the courts to be reported from next April.

It only came to light because of the work of Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has campaigned for greater openness.

He said: “The only significant harm that has been suffered by Boy L is that which has been done by children’s services (from Britain). He has been seen by social services in Ireland who have confirmed that he is settled and happy and that the only unusual thing about him is a dread of social workers.”

Boy L’s mother, known only as Mrs W, took her son abroad after claiming he had suffered trauma through being placed with three different foster carers and three different schools in the space of only six months.

She said: “He was traumatised. While he was in care he was wetting his bed and having nightmares. He had even started to self-harm. He would run out of school saying he was going to find his mummy. When I was allowed to see him he would cling to me and refuse to let go.”

Social services first became involved with Mrs W and her son six years ago when she approached them herself, asking for help to deal with her increasingly violent husband.

Although he had never attacked the boy, social workers feared he would suffer long-term emotional harm by witnessing the domestic abuse.

When Mrs W moved from Leicestershire to Devon in September 2006 to start a new life away from her husband.

Social services appeared to be satisfied that she could look after her son but became concerned when Mrs W’s estranged husband followed her to Devon to be closer to the boy.

Leicestershire social services subsequently obtained a family court order to remove the boy from her care. Mrs W claims that he was taken from his nursery without her knowledge and placed with a foster mother.

Mrs W, a devout Catholic, said: “I was absolutely distraught. I couldn’t understand how they could do that. It wasn’t my fault my husband had followed us to Devon. I had no control over him.”

She said that on the rare occasions that she was allowed to see her son – sometimes only once a month – she found him increasingly upset.

“The trauma caused to him by being placed with different foster parents and in different schools far outweighed any he might have suffered from seeing my husband being abusive to me,” she said.

When Mrs W fell pregnant again, following a brief – and by her own admission ill-judged – reunion with her husband, social services threatened to take the new baby into care.

In June last year she took her son, while he was on an unsupervised visit, and, leaving a note explaining her actions, fled to Spain.

Here she set up home with the two children and sent Boy L to school, where she claims he began to make rapid progress and regained some of his self-confidence. She also obtained a Spanish court order restraining her husband from approaching her.

However she again fled, this time to Sweden and on to the Republic of Ireland, after a Spanish court ordered her to surrender Boy L following a legal application by the British authorities. Devon social services have no jurisdiction over the baby as he was born in Spain.

Mrs W says her son has settled happily in the small village where they now live.

Devon County Council said it could not comment on individual cases.

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Political opposites agree that Utah must do more to keep families intact.

image
(Tribune File Photo) Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, left
Child welfare bills lining up on both sides of the aisle for 2012 session

BY BROOKE ADAMS

The Salt Lake Tribune

Child welfare bills lining up on both sides of the aisle for 2012 session

They may not always see eye to eye politically, but pols Christine Watkins and LaVar Christensen seem to have the same vision for tweaking child welfare and parental rights laws this legislative session.

Both veteran lawmakers are working up bills aimed at providing a course correction for a child welfare system they say doesn’t do enough to keep children with parents and other kin.

“As a state we are paying way too much money to pull kids out of homes and we should be doing the opposite, being a family friendly state,” said Rep. Watkins, D-Price, a former elementary school teacher and principal. “Once you get into this [child welfare] system, it is not family friendly.”

Rep. Christensen, R-Draper, an attorney, characterizes his concerns as the “ultimate nonpartisan issue.”

“I’m not trying to take away the good that is done, but we have to be as concerned about the abuse of parental rights as we are of situations where children are found to be in extreme danger. I think the pendulum has gone way too far,” he said.

It began that swing, Christensen said, in 1993 when the state was sued over a foster care system deemed “one of the most troubled” in the nation. But it’s time to “evaluate if we are better off because of it,” he said.

Christensen said the Division of Child and Family Services’ (DCFS) budget has quadrupled since then to nearly $160 million a year, with too much of that money dedicated to supporting children after they’ve been removed from their homes rather than providing services that might help keep a family intact. Utah receives some $47 million in federal funds to subsidize adoptions of children from foster care, money that can’t be used on prevention or reunification services. That puts “artificial pressure” on the system to facilitate termination of parents’ rights, Christensen said.

An audit of DCFS released a year ago showed the number of children served in foster care increased 38 percent over the past decade. Over the same period, in-home services that make it possible for children to stay home while problems are addressed have decreased 40 percent. The audit said foster care is likely to last longer and is more expensive than in-home service, which it said research has tied to better outcomes for children. In fiscal year 2010, DCFS spent nearly $113 million on foster care and adoption assistance services, a figure that includes personnel costs and payments to providers. It spent slightly less than $7 million on in-home services.

Story continues below

Christensen said one case in particular illustrated for him the need to prod DCFS to focus more on family preservation. It involved a 26-year-old woman who got involved in drugs through a boyfriend, who later abused their 2-year-old child. As the state began to investigate the man, he committed suicide. The woman’s parents cared for their grandchild for 18 months; the child was then placed with a paternal aunt. The grandparents are trying to regain custody, Christensen said.

“The state says, ‘We’re under such time pressure we can’t wait for you to pull it together,’ so it makes a permanent decision that forever more you’re stripped of your natural right as a mother,” he said. “It is like a foreclosure department.”

Christensen said he believes parents are getting short shrift, in part because a law he sponsored years ago strengthening their rights is located in a different section of the code than the law that outlines when parental rights may be terminated.

“I want to take that prior legislation, which I believe has been overlooked in sad and tragic ways, and merge those together,” he said. “The termination of parental rights is still moving ahead 600 times a year and that shouldn’t be happening. If parents are struggling, let’s help them. And only in the most extreme cases — irreversible cases that cannot be corrected, cannot be remedied — would you find someone unfit and take their child from them.”

He also wants the courts to look more to a child’s extended family for support, and he plans to enhance language that calls on the state to do “everything possible to strengthen, unite and preserve families” — a point on which his agenda mirrors that of Watkins’.

Watkins has several bills already on the docket and others in the works, all generated by problems brought to her attention by constituents. Among them: HB241 would require DCFS to have “clear and convincing evidence” before it could remove a child from a relative’s care based on age or health-related problems alleged to be incapacitating.

Watkins took up the issue after hearing about a woman in her 50s who was caring for grandchildren, ages 3 and 6, when their mother lost custody due to drug use. A caseworker wanted to remove the children from the grandmother’s care because she dozed off while waiting for the children during a supervised visit with their mother.

“Grandma said, ‘Yep, I did fall asleep but I’ve been so busy working with them and catching them up,’ ” Watkins said. “Because of that one incident, they wanted to take those grandchildren away and put them in foster care.”

Instead, after Watkins and other family members got involved, the state agreed to place the children with another relative, she said. Watkins also is sponsoring HB202, which would prevent DCFS from taking action against a parent or guardian who tests positive for a properly prescribed and used medication. That problem surfaced in another case involving a grandparent, she said. A caseworker claimed a grandmother wasn’t capable of being a caretaker because of prescribed medication, which she had taken for more than a decade. To DCFS’ credit, the decision was reversed after it was brought to the attention of local and state directors, Watkins said.

brooke@sltrib.com

Court of Appeal Affirms Orange County Jury Finding Cps Liable to Mother for $ 4.9 Million in Damages.

Court of Appeal Affirms Orange County Jury Finding Cps Liable to Mother for $ 4.9 Million in Damages.

The California Court of Appeals has affirmed the damage award against Orange County and two of its social workers in what has been described as the largest civil rights verdict in the State of California, and possibly the nation.

San Diego, CA (PRWEB) June 17, 2010

Case No. 01CC02379 (Trial before Hon. Ronald L. Bauer, Dept. CX103)
California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Division Three, Case No. G039045

On March 23, 2007, the Orange County Social Services Agency and two of its Social Workers, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak were found liable for violating the parental rights of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, as guaranteed under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The jury found in favor of Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick and awarded $4.9 million in economic and non-economic damages, and approximately $6,000 in punitive damages against the individual social workers.

At trial, Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick demonstrated that social workers Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak caused Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick’s children to be removed from her custody without cause, and continued to detain them without cause, violating Ms. Fogarty-Harwick’s Constitutional right to familial association. Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick demonstrated that these defendants, while working as social workers for Orange County Social Services, intentionally fabricated evidence to obtain a court order to detain Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick’s two young daughters on February 17, 2000. Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick also demonstrated that Orange County Social Services, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak maliciously failed to provide the court with exculpatory information, and filed false reports in furtherance of the effort to keep Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick separated from her children.

The lawsuit also alleged that the policies, practices, or procedures employed by Orange County Social Services and the County of Orange in the removal of Plaintiff’s children from her care also violated Ms. Fogarty-Harwick’s constitutional rights, under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The unlawful policies, practices or procedures pertained to the detention of children without a finding of imminent danger or serious physical injury; interviewing children without a parent present; continuing detention after learning there was no basis to do so; using trickery and fabricated evidence; and failing to adequately train employees regarding the Constitutional rights of parents.

In addition to the jury’s verdict, the trial court also awarded attorneys fees of $1,653,284.95.

The defendants Orange County, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak, all appealed the jury verdict, the court’s decision, and the attorney fee award. On June 14, 2010, after in depth review of extensive briefs and a complex record, Division Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal for the State of California issued its opinion affirming the Orange County jury’s verdict awarding Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick approximately $4.9 million against the County of Orange, and two of its social workers, and affirming the trial court decision awarding attorney’s fees.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeal voiced its concerns over what happened to Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick: “Stated plainly, the outcome of this case cannot be dismissed as merely the unfortunate product of a runaway jury. The evidence adduced at trial obviously caused both the jury and the judge to conclude not only that something seriously wrong was done to Fogarty-Hardwick in this case, but also that the wrongful conduct was not an isolated incident. That conclusion is something the County should be taking very seriously.”

San Diego Lawyer Shawn A. McMillan, of the Law Offices of Shawn A. McMillan, was lead counsel in the case, both at trial and on appeal. Attorney Sondra S. Sutherland was co-counsel. The Law Offices of Donnie R. Cox (Dennis Atchley an Donnie R. Cox) assisted with the appeal.

For additional information, contact:

Shawn A. McMillan, Esq.

THE LAW OFFICES OF SHAWN A. McMILLAN, A.P.C.
4955 Via Lapiz
San Diego, California 92122
Telephone: (858) 646-0069
Facsimile: (206) 600-4582

A prayer for children kidnapped by CPS or other predators!

Please Heavenly Father, Almighty God, please be with Julie in this troublesome time. Please strengthen her and guide her. Please help her to know that she is not alone, but that we are all grieving together in this Satanic battle for our children. Please watch over her children and mine, (and every parent and child that has been immersed in this living, breathing nightmare) since neither one of us can physically take care of our children as we were accustomed to doing. Please make our children know we love them. Please protect our children from permanent physical, mental and emotional harm from these evil forces. Please guide our babies back to us as soon as YOUR will permits. Please protect our hearts from breaking in sorrow, and also from becoming hard and unfeeling like those that have brought so much hurt into our lives. Please forgive us for our sins, many that we are not even aware that we do, and those that we do because we are frail, imperfect human flesh. Thank you for keeping our children in YOUR care. Please reunite us with our loved ones as soon as possible, and hold us gently in the meantime, keeping us in YOUR arms, Father, keeping us sane and more stable each day. Please help us to grow in faith that YOU will not allow us to endure more than we can bear. You promised us that, so please keep that promise to us, YOUR children, all of us. Thank you for all the good things that YOU do for us, that we take for granted every day, like pleasant sunshine, gentle rains for cleansing and renewal, and small animals that watching gives us so much delight, if only we take the time to sit and watch them. We know that you take care of humble little critters like sparrows, and so please help us remember how much more valuable we are to you, and therefore that you are a caring and faithful God, one that understands our sorrows and tears and crazy thoughts. We know that you taught Abraham of old this lesson, of how it feels to have to give up a child, but you gracefully gave him his son back. YOU gave YOUR own son for us, that we might have something more than this present life to look forward too. Thank you for the rainbow, which reminds us that you will never destroy the world by means of a global flood, and also gives up hope when we see it after a storm, hope and a reminder that things do get better. Thank you. Please be with us all. Please guide us all in the proper direction. Please strengthen us. Please comfort us all. Please help us to understand what your will is and WHY we must endure these trials and tribulations, because we have a hard time understanding why we have been chosen, we feel singled out, and not in a good way. So please help us. Help Julie. Help all our friends here. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

BY: Hope Taketheroadlesstraveled