Tomorrow is my day to cross the arresting officer. Mind you, she didn't arrest my client but my client's boyfriend, who was charged with Sexual Assault on a child, specifically my client's then five-year old daughter. Charges were later dropped against the boyfriend but the juvenile neglect case against my client continued in Juvenile Court. No criminal charges were filed against my client; the state simply filed a petition first alleging that she neglected her kids by allowing continued contact with the accused child molester. Later, the government amended the original petition, adding a "prayer" (interesting word) for the termination of my client's parental rights to all five of her kids. She has no criminal record, no prior "adjudications" in juvenile court and has held a job for the last five years. Unlike a lot of my Juvenile Court cases, there is no indication of any drug use.
So I'm up late preparing and waking up in the middle of the night worried. There is no jail time at stake but "only" my client's rights to all of her kids. I don't know if I've ever felt more pressure in a case, however, as I (1) really respect my client and what she's done with the cards she's been dealt, (2) think that the rights to your children should only be taken away as a last resort when you've either shown that you're a direct threat to their safety or that you've simply failed to comply with a long-term rehabilitative plan, and (3) feel that there's perhaps (excluding the death penalty or the legalization of torture) no more dangerous exercise of governmental power than when the state tries to take away your right to see and raise your children.
I'll write more about this case later, but my prep for it brings to mind an Omaha World Herald editorial I wrote back in January. First, a little context.
One of my favorite professors from college wrote an editorial in which he lamented the "faulty system of juvenile care" in Nebraska, and criticizing the system's and the society's "looking to science and government for solutions" to "Moral" crises.
While I agreed with a lot of his criticisms, it was this part at the end of his editorial that shocked me:
With this in mind, it is not surprising that [Dr. who previously wrote about the system] sees orphanages as the alternative to shaping the young minds and souls of disadvantaged children...
I'd never seen a clearer example of Bill Moyers' observation that in our time "the delusional is no longer marginal" than to witness a highly intelligent professor criticize reliance on government only to then condone "orphanages" as "alternatives" to shaping young children's lives in "morally disordered families.
Wouldn't that be a little more reliance on the government?
So I wrote back. Here's my favorite part of what ended up in the highly conservative paper:
Pulling kids away from their families and sticking them in government-run orphanages simply because the state deems them "morally disordered" is an extreme measure that would violate the Constitution, derail countless citizen's pursuit of happiness and also threaten the liberty interests of both parents and children.
But don't worry about such a policy affecting you, even if it's implemented. Like many of those fighting the Iraq War and like most of the families embroiled in Nebraska's juvenile justice system you won't likely have to deal with its costs, unless you're poor.
But be careful as well. Remember that the rights of troubled teens, morally disordered families and the poor are also your rights. Only so long as the rights of the most vile among us are respected and enforced will the rights of the best citizens be upheld.
Understandably, I've gotten some funny looks from some juvenile court judges since the article appeared. I'd like to follow up on this later by explaining the reasons why it's the poorest who end up taking the heat for new policies but I'll leave that for another day.
If there is one image that best captures what most peoples' experience is when they first enter juvenile court it's that of Wile E. Coyote as he runs off the cliff. He doesn't fall, at first, because he hasn't yet realized that what's long been holding him up is no longer there. When he looks around, expecting the foundation to still be there, he sees that it's gone and he falls.
If there's another image that captures why he falls so hard and so quickly it's the character Ken Kesey developed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Nurse Ratched rules our world in Juvenile Court.
She's so sure she's doing the right thing that she doesn't realize all the collateral damage she inflicts along the way.
And she'll happily order your frontal lobes to be cut out and chalk it up to a deep love for you. It's pretty simple, really. If you're not compliant, you're not an "acute," you're a "chronic." And if you're a chronic, we know what'll make you happy and lead to an everlasting smile on your face.
But don't worry, it likely won't affect you or your kids (at least not yet) unless you happen to be poor. And, come to think of it, Randall Patrick McMurphy looked pretty happy there at the end, didn't he?
Back to work...