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!


Shaken Baby Syndrome Parents

November 18, 2008

I have a shaken baby on my caseload who is doing quite well in her foster home, although she has severe delays and will endure long-standing effects from the violent shaking she suffered at the hands of her parent(s) at 6 weeks old.  She was in the hospital for quite a while and has been in a foster home since.  There has been a criminal investigation, although it has stalled because they cannot pinpoint which parent did it and neither are admitting anything happened.

So now it is months later and I have two parents who want to parent this kid, yet I have all of this risk that I have to take into consideration.  And I am supposed to offer them services.  Yet, there are no services for parents of shaken babies.  I looked at the research that has been done and really there is just the labeling of what SBS is and guides on how to prevent it.  I am supposed to offer services to these parents to eliminate their parental deficiencies, but they do not exist.  But I also don’t feel comfortable sending home a young child with sever disabilities that are the result of the severe physical abuse by at least one of the parents.

I am frustrated.  I am in a position where I could see that these parents could possibly be good parents to this child.  However, at this point, my job is to look at the risk factors and they tell me that I cannot let the child go home.  But do I have enough to prove in a court?  My colleague has reminded me to let the court decide and have that decision be on them.  I am just frustrated because there are no services and I feel like may get the blame for that.  And it is easy to see how good things are going now – reports from the visitation are good and the parents are presenting as committed.  I just have to remind myself of what a violent act they committed and the long-term effects this young child is going to have – developmental delays, learning disabilities, and vision problems.  What an awful case.