My First Trial

February 1, 2009

I knew this was going to happen, but I was still dreading it.  One of my cases going to trial.  Essentially cases go to trial when we (the Dept. and the parents) cannot come to an agreement on a legal proceeding, usually for dependency or termination of parental rights.  In this case, the parents of my shaken baby are not agreeing to dependency on their newest child that we removed at birth.

The Dept. (and I) are of the opinion that these parents seriously injured a child, have not admitted to it or the gravity of her injuries, and have not participated in the services they agreed to to address their “parental deficiencies”.  So we are going to trial.  This is a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  My lawyer has been prepping everything for the trial and calling the past social workers, who of course come to me and ask what is going on.  They are all going to be called as witnesses, as will I.  So I have been going over all of my case records and remembering what I did on the case over time (which is really hard!) and trying to mentally prepare myself to be cross-examined.  It is hard not to have pictures of Law & Order or A Few Good Men go through your head and not wonder how you will do or if they will break you.  I hope not!

And scheduling is a huge pain, because I have to be at the trial the entire time, which means I cannot do anything on my other cases, so I am trying to get colleagues to cover my other hearings and trying to make sure that I have nothing majorly pressing on my other cases.

So I was originally told that trial was to start on Monday, 1/26, but wouldn’t know for sure until after the case scheduling conference that happened the Thursday afternoon before.  I then learned that it would happen downtown in a different courthouse and start on Tuesday.  So I am all prepped for Tuesday until one of the parent’s attorneys asks for a one-day continuance due to illness, which everyone agrees to (although he still works and is in hearings for other cases – whatever).  So I dry clean my one suit and haul the case files on a bus and go downtown Wed. morning.  Most of us are ready but the parents are 30 minutes late, which is typical of them.  Unfortunately, so is one of our translators, and we cannot proceed without her.  I am in charge of scheduling translators (yep, along with everything else) and I would have been worried about not doing something correctly, if it wasn’t that I spoke to her personally on Monday to inform her about Tuesday’s continuance.  I call, no answer.  We all wait and wait and wait.  I am pissed because this makes me look bad.  She finally arrives 2 hours late! because she had double-booked.  Fortunately, the judge lays into her a bit, so I do not have to.  And we start trial.

Except we don’t.  The parents’ attorneys ask for a continuance because we just received a psych report on the dad and they want more time to review it.  The lawyers (all three!) have the most long-winded arguments I have ever heard.  Why isn’t there a time limit on them?  Seriously, they need to get more concise!

The judge grants their motion and we are delayed for about a month (although with some meetings in between).  And it was probably the right decision, as they probably do need time to review the report.  And it was nice for me to go back to the office and be able to work on stuff without anything scheduled.  And maybe this will increase our chances of having the case settle, which would just be so much easier.  But what a stressful process!

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Badgered by Lawyers

August 2, 2008

Yesterday I was at court all morning where it was very busy.  I personally had three hearings for my cases.  They were more “check-in” hearings where nothing big happened, we just touched base with all of the players.

A coworker also had to go in for an emergency hearing after she had to pull kids from their mother’s home after she was being pretty neglectful.  So they had to have a hearing to get permission to place the kids somewhere.  On Thursday night, they had a 3 hour meeting about it (which I sat in) and then they were at court until mid-afternoon.  So it was stressful and contentious and not very fun for anyone.  Well, the end result was the judge gave the social worker the authority to place the kids in foster care, with suitable adults (family friends), and to return home to the mother when it is appropriate.  After the hearing, apparently the mother’s attorney accosted the social worker saying that she should just return the kids to the mom and not go through trying to figure out another place for the kids to go.  Apparently they were pretty aggressive and the social worker got a bit overwhelmed and began crying.

So I was thinking to myself, how would I react and what would I say.  This is hard.  I am not someone who is very good or experienced with confrontation.  Especially when compared to lawyers who are trained and seem to thrive on it.  While supervising these kids in the office until 8 pm on Friday I was thinking about this and finally came to an answer as I was driving home late for the second night in a row, exhausted.

The reason that my colleague wouldn’t do it and why I wouldn’t is because is it my ass on the line.  If something happens, the blame sits on the social worker’s shoulders.  The attorney doesn’t bare responsibility – and would probably shirk it as soon as possible.  We have to make harsh decisions sometimes and trust our guts because it is our responsibility to make those determinations.  Is this safe or not for kids?  Unfortunately, this puts us in situations where we are bullied, disliked, and even threatened.

So I need to embrace and cement this mentality more and more.  Which is tough.  I feel like in social work school we are taught to trust clients and take their word as true.  And while there is an element of that in child welfare, we are also analyzing situations.  And this pisses people off.  I am just not looking forward to the time where a lawyer attempts to bully me.