Monday, February 11, 2008

Lawyers against being adversarial

The San Jose Mercury News exposes the leading juvenile dependency court lawyer:
Proctor, 63, defends his approach and warned a reporter in one interview not to "overestimate the importance of due process" ... As a result, Proctor said, the most effective thing lawyers can do for parents is to persuade them to admit to the problems and work on solving them. "You could litigate every piece of the (social worker's) report, but what is that going to accomplish?" Proctor asked. "My feeling is you've got a better chance getting them out of denial."
So some out-of-control social worker takes away your kids for no good reason, you get a lawyer, you tell him that you are innocent, and all he does is accuse you of being in denial!

Apparently, the lawyer was eventually too embarrassed to keep defending his practices:
Gary Proctor, the owner of Santa Clara Juvenile Defenders, said the newspaper's reporting "raised my consciousness on the fact that we have perhaps become too collaborative," choosing too often to accept, rather than challenge, the findings of social workers that children are in dangerous situations. ...

The acknowledgment came during Proctor's third lengthy session with the Mercury News in the past year, and it represented a significant change from earlier interviews, in which Proctor had defended the firm's practices and questioned the value of being adversarial.
There is something seriously wrong with the system when a newspaper reporter has to explain to a prominent lawyer that lawyer are supposed to be adversial. Lawyers are supposed to be vigorous advocates for their clients.

As the article explains, these lawyers rarely contest anything that the social workers say, and almost never try for an appeal or a writ to a higher court. These lawyers are worse than worthless because they sell out their clients.

The article tells the story of Marquita Jackson who permanently lost her parental rights to her kid after a three-year legal battle. It was never proved that she did anything wrong. The accusation was that she was somehow responsible for letting her boyfriend shake the baby excessively, but there is considerable scientific doubt about whether there is any such thing as Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). The boyfriend (and baby's father) was never convicted of anything.

The article blames the unjust outcome on inadequate lawyering, but I think that the problem runs much deeper than that. From the story, it appears that the social workers and judges were shown the relevant facts and laws, but acted maliciously against the woman anyway. The newspaper investigation gives the impression that the juvenile dependency courts are truly evil.

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