Putting Families First
I have been a court-appointed Dependency attorney on many occasions during my 30-year legal career. I have also been a purely private Dependency attorney at times as well, as I am now. There are a variety of problems one encounters on Dependency parent representation with either type of parents' attorney. I have seen them all.
The Tendencies of Court-Appointed Attorneys
Court-appointed attorneys tend to have contracts to handle a certain number of cases. They are paid either "per case" -- making a certain fixed amount for each case -- or they are hired "per caseload", meaning that they will handle some number in the aggregate (e.g. "250 cases") at any given time. In either instance, there is a built-in tendency -- or temptation -- to resolve cases as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this means a pre-disposition to handle cases without the time and expense of trial whenever possible. It is not that such attorneys will never take cases to trial, it is merely that they have a built-in predilection in cases resolving without trial if they can.
Bear in mind that the judges or judicial officers have this same, built-in predilection to resolve cases short of trial as well. Yet this can work to a parent's favor. If the parent's attorney has some well-built, credible defense to make showing shortcomings of the petitioner's case (i.e. Social Services as represented by County Counsel), judges might recognize it and try to convince the County to settle early!
Yet this is seldom the case. Often cases will go to a contested hearing only when a parent simply will not back down and they "want their day in court." Court-appointed attorneys are obliged to put on such a trial for their obstinant clients, but many do so only in form. They have no real strategy. They are only trying to appease their clients, before losing and muttering "I told you so." Now, this is not all of the court-appointed attorneys, but it is certainly some of them.
The Tendencies of Private Dependency Attorneys
The private dependency attorney -- paid for by the parents, friends or relatives of the parents -- have a different but equally problematic tendency. Such an attorney will make the most money the more time is spent on a case. Three pretrial settlement conferences taking several days? Sure, more money. An all-day mediation which results in nothing? Great, more money. A week-long trial -- even where the questions posed by parent's counsel all amount to, "Really?" Oh yes, more money. When the parent represented by their private attorney loses, a parent might at least feel like they "went down swinging." But it should not have been that way either.
A Balanced Approach to Dependency Law
A good parent's Dependency attorney is both 1) ready willing and able to put on a substantial, substantive trial, or 2) ready to resolve cases with a good settlement when and if good reasons appear after hard work finding those criteria. It is only when both of these possibilities are each present that you have the best Dependency parents counsel. That is my goal.
Experienced Child Dependency Attorney
In The San Francisco Bay Area
My 30 Years As A Child Dependency Attorney
Long ago in law school, about 1989, at UC Hastings College of Law, I spent a summer internship with the Santa Clara County, Office of the County Counsel. I was asked to begin my work there in the Child Dependency Unit (CDU) of that organization, though I was "promised to be moved out of that hell" as soon as they could. I've never really left.
While working in the Santa Clara County Dependency Court for County Counsel, I became familiar with the Presiding Juvenile Judge, the Honorable Leonard P. Edwards. I was very pleased to become his Judicial Extern in my final year of law school, as he was the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court and one of three Judicial Officers handling Dependency cases in Santa Clara County.
I graduated UC Hastings law school and passed the California Bar Exam by the end of 1991. I still feel very fortunate to have been "sworn in" to the practice of law by Judge Edwards.
In 1992, Santa Clara County and most of the state was in a "hiring freeze." Instead of waiting, I joined the Conflicts Administration Program (CAP) handling "conflicts" cases in Dependency, Delinquency and Adult Criminal Misdemeanors.
In 1994, law changes meant that the parents' trial attorney was to file any appeal in any Dependency case wherein Reunification services ceased by Extraordinary Writ, and the matter was set for a Permanency Planning Hearing (WIC sec. 366.26) I became one of two "Writ Attorneys" writing these appellate filings for CAP cases in Santa Clara County.
In 1997, I joined the Judicial Council, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), under the Supreme Court of California, as a Juvenile Court Consultant where I traveled the state conducting random audits of Dependency cases in California's 58 county courts to ensure compliance with the provisions of Title IV in Federal Law. Our Judicial Review and Technical Assistance (JRTA) team performed this duty, as well as being the organizers of the statewide annual Beyond the Bench conference on Dependency law for Judges, Attorneys, Social Workers and other Dependency Court professionals. We were also staff to the statewide Family and Juvenile Advisory Committee (FamJuv) to the Judicial Council.
In 2000, I returned to private practice, now in nearby San Mateo County on the Private Defender Panel (PDP). (The PDP in San Mateo is the alternative used in San Mateo County for all court-appointed cases that one usually thinks of as "Public Defender" cases.) I handled Dependency, Delinquency and Adult Conservatorship cases there.
In 2006, the first "specialization" in the US for attorneys in Child Dependency Law was established, the "Child Welfare Law Specialist" (CWLS). I passed that first-ever test and became of of the first 200 CWLS attorneys in the US.
In 2007, I organized a nonprofit, South Bay Dependency Attorneys for Parents (SBDAP), and as Executive Director and put in a bid to the AOC to handle court-appointed Dependency cases in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. SBDAP won the bid for Santa Cruz county and I worked there, both handling cases and supervising other attorneys.
In 2009, Santa Cruz County shifted their handling of Dependency cases to the courthouse in Watsonville and I returned to private practice.
From 2012 to about 2019 I (proudly) cut far back on my Dependency caseload and became the primary stay-at-home parent to my own two boys while my wife became a Technical Writer.
In 2019 I returned to the practice of Dependency law, and have been a purely private (i.e. non-court-appointed) attorney since that time and to the present day.