Can Family Court Judges Do As They Please?

Reckless, irresponsible, arrogant - are just a few words to describe a recent Family Court ruling on behalf of an out of control fourteen year old.
After all that has happened these past ...

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Reckless, irresponsible, arrogant - are just a few words to describe a recent Family Court ruling on behalf of an out of control fourteen year old.

After all that has happened these past few months regarding the Mepham football scandal and the public outcry regarding accountability, one would think that a Family Court Judge would be more sensitive and set a standard for others to look to.

Instead, from one perspective, she acted recklessly and irresponsibly. A fourteen year old entered Family Court on a PINS petition in March of 2003. He was mandated to counseling and probation. It became apparent that he was abusing drugs and alcohol. Thus, drug counseling was also recommended.

The main reason his parents filed a PINS petition in the first place was because their son was aggressive, violent and out of control. To better serve his needs, the Court ordered a complete psychiatric work up. Within three days, he was discharged because he was out of control.

The saga continued. Program after program was recommended to deal with his public defiance and violence. In each setting, he became threatening and out of control and was discharged.

In an effort to break this cycle of violent self-destruction, the Judge finally remanded him in mid November to an RTC, which specialized in psychiatric and aggressive behavior problems.

While waiting for a bed to become available for this out of control teenager, the Judge remanded this aggressive fourteen year old to a non-secure respite care residence. The Judge also gave permission for this out of control teenage boy to go to a football party two days before he was to go away. Days before this party was to take place, AJ told other non-secure detention residents and staff that he had every intention to drink, get drunk and stoned and have sex. With intense arrogance, he said that there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.

In his twisted way of looking at his circumstance, AJ felt he had nothing else to lose. He was going away anyway, so why not go away with a bang.

When permission was initially sought and granted, the County Attorney and the Department of Probation strongly objected. However, they were quickly dismissed.

One of the many problems with Family Court and some of its' Judges is that they can do as they please, even if their reckless decision making puts the child in question and others at risk.

When AJ arrived at the non-secure detention residence, the supervisory staff went ballistic when they saw the order allowing this fourteen year old to leave the campus for a football party on the weekend.

The program supervisors contacted their administrators, who in turn contacted the Executive Director of this agency. He could not believe, with AJ's documented track record of violent, out of control behavior, that anyone who cared about a child and was in his/her right mind would give such permission.

The Executive Director directed his program administrators to write a strong letter to the Judge, urging her to rescind the permission. They indicated that if she elected not to do so, their CEO would terminate the boy's placement immediately, even if it affected the agency's contract. For him, it was a matter of justice, the boy's safety and the well being of others.

This letter along with supporting documentation was presented in Court and was quickly dismissed by the Judge. Her comment in Court was rude, arrogant and irresponsible. She basically said (paraphrasing) you people are supposed to handle stuff like this, so handle it, and then dismissed their request.

The CEO terminated the placement. Probation agreed to move him. What happens next is anyone's guess.

Early on, the boy in question threatened a judge after he was called to task. His law guardian told him to lie about that altercation. He was an excellent athlete and therefore well meaning, but misguided people were attempting to amend the rules in his regard.

It is unconscionable to me that an elected Family Court Judge, who is allegedly well educated, who had a documented case file on AJ's out of control, violent behavior would casually undermine a program that on any given day has close to a dozen "AJs" living in community waiting for a case disposition.

The whole reason why a teenager is remanded to non-secure detention in the first place is because he or she is out of control, non-compliant, oppositional and/or violent. The role of the non-secure environment is to call the young person to accountability, provide some vital data to the Court and provide a safe, secure environment for the child and all other residents.

It makes no sense to reward a teenager who has been threatening, violent and extremely disrespectful. It gives the wrong message to all the other young people in custody. It undermines the authority structure and indirectly supports a double standard that is profoundly destructive.

What if this young man was allowed to do as he pleased, and did as he bragged he would? What if he came back from this party drunk and stoned and assaulted someone? The people charged with his supervision would be charged with being irresponsible and incompetent.

However, the truth is that the Judge in charge of this boy's case was irresponsible and incompetent. What amazes me is that the agency charged with the care of this young man has a fourteen year history of excellent service, with high marks as to how they respond to the young people in their care. They presented a documented case of volatile and dangerous behavior and the Judge dismissed their serious concerns with "deal with it."

What are her credentials to make decisions regarding the placement of very troubled teenagers? Who is she accountable to? If AJ got his way and did as people feared, would she be charged with reckless endangerment?

At least this time, we are all safe and so is AJ. We might not be so lucky the next time!