Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kids to be allowed in court

The San Jose newspaper reports:
SACRAMENTO - The state Legislature Monday gave final approval to a proposed law that would increase the chances that children who are suspected victims of abuse or neglect will be present at court hearings to decide their fate.

The legislation, which received unanimous approval by the state Assembly, now will go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has 12 days to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

The measure was pushed by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, after the Mercury News series "Broken Families, Broken Courts" in February identified as one significant problem of dependency courts statewide the fact that children routinely were absent from hearings at which their fate was decided. The problem was later highlighted in a report on dependency court by a blue-ribbon commission appointed by state Chief Justice Ronald George.

The Assembly voted 76-0 for the bill after Jones said in a speech on the floor that the "genesis" for the legislation was the Mercury News series, which focused on cases such as that of Zairon Frazier of Alameda County.

The legislation, AB 3051, would require judges, referees and commissioners to postpone dependency court hearings if a child age 10 and older is not present and has not been properly notified or given an opportunity to attend. At the hearings, judges or their substitutes - referees or commissioners - consider allegations of abuse or neglect by parents, and decide the fates of children temporarily placed in foster care.

Jones cited Frazier's case as he said: "Unfortunately, children over the age of 10 throughout the state of California are deprived of the opportunity to be heard in the courts making decisions about their future." He added, "This bill simply says they should be given a chance to be heard, they should be allowed to testify."
Commissioner Irwin H. Joseph has a policy of never allowing kids in court. My kids were not allowed in court. A unanimous vote of the California legislature says that he is doing the wrong thing.

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