Friday, September 21, 2007

Indefensible

I attended a CLE today (continuing legal education) on Issues in Juvenile Law. (Deliquency, Child Abuse, and Child Neglect). In my state, all attorneys must take 24 hours of continuing legal education every two years in order to continue to practice. Some courts require that attorneys have specific CLE credits in order to continue to practice in that particular court, and the Juvenile Court in my county is one of those courts.

I haven't done much work in this area, but, I decided to take the CLE just in case I wanted to take any cases in the coming year. (Last year, I had to turn down two cases because I hadn't had the CLE that would allow me to practice in Juvenile Court). (And also because I don't want to be stuck trying to get a bunch of hours come December, because, well, that just sucks.)

Anyway, much of the CLE was a review of case law and some discussion of how to use expert witnesses effectively, which was all well and good, and the speakers were actually funny and animated, which is nice.

But, one session just ripped my heart out.

The medical examiner for my part of the state (she serves 21 counties) came to speak about child abuse and neglect cases that, tragically, end on the autopsy tables in her lab. Her lecture was riveting and utterly, completely, and totally horrifying.

Horrifying.

The things that she showed us that human beings are capable of doing to their own children, or allowing others to do to their own children*, are...inhuman. All through her presentation, I just felt a volcano of rage exploding inside me. I think if you had put some of the parents of those children in the front of that room full of 75 attorneys, by the end of her presentation, I think we would have torn them limb from limb with our bare hands.

And we were mostly speechless. (Imagine that, rendering a room of 75 attorneys speechless.) Finally, one person raised their hand (it was the Q&A portion) and said, "how do you do this? How do you do this without losing your mind?"

And the medical examiner said, "Funny you should ask that because one of my residents asked me that this morning. She's thinking of changing to a different medical speciality. And I do take these cases home with me, these cases, they haunt me. But, when it's all said and done, I'm the last person who can speak for these babies. I'm the only person who can tell the end of their story to a jury. Someone needs to be their voice."

She's right - these children - their stories deserve to be heard.

There have been few times when I have felt *incapable* of handling a task in the practice of law. I have felt inexperienced, overwhelmed, and in need of assistance and direction, but, if you threw a case at me and said, "Lawmommy, you need to take on this negligence, or medical malpractice or adverse possession or replevin or [insert obscure lawsuit here] action" - I would probably run around like crazy and be stressed out and ask a million questions of other attorneys more experienced than I - but, I have rarely thought, "I just couldn't do that." Even when it comes to criminal defense - (I generally limit my criminal practice to housing code violations) - but, if a judge assigned a crimal defense matter to me, if the case didn't involve a child, I would do it -because I believe in our system of justice, and the importance of defense counsel.

But, as I sat in the lecture hall today, looking at the slides of tiny battered bodies, it occured to me, that I do not think I could defend these parents. And I do not think I have it in me to take assignments from juvenile court in which in would be my job to argue, on behalf of a parent, that a child should be returned to a parent who has abused or neglected them. Regardless of how strongly I believe in system, I just don't have it in me.

LM

*In many of the cases presented to us today, the perpetrator of the violence against the child was the boyfriend of the mother, who was not the child's father, and, in many cases, the abuse had been documented over a long period of time, but, the parent avoided detection by never going to the same ER twice.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Christina said...

I don't think I could have even sat through that class. I can't even let my mind go there for a second, I would have the worst nightmares. But I am thankful for people like her, who are willing to look that abuse in the eye and speak for those who can not speak for themselves.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 1:42:00 AM  
Anonymous E. said...

Just curious, have you heard about the 10-year-old boy who admitted to starting a house fire in which four people died, and is now being charged with one count of arson and, I think, four counts of murder? What do you think about that if you are familiar with it? I'm having a hard time believing that is the best use of the system's time and resources, and I really don't think it's what would be best for the boy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 7:55:00 AM  
Blogger maxhelcal said...

Gretchen,

As you know, this subject close to my heart. I was asked not to look at the pictures because they would give me nightmares, so I have never seen them.

I don't think the system is tough enough on child abusers especially when the child will go on for the rest of his/her life suffering. I am happy to hear that you won't be defending a child abuser. I think there is a special division of hell for those people.

~Michelle

Saturday, September 22, 2007 9:57:00 AM  
Blogger theghelertertwins.blogspot.com said...

When it comes to child abusers the penalty is much to light. The laws need to be stricter. They need to fit the crime. Throw away the key. They should not be allowed to run the risk of ever harming another child. child Abusers should have no legal rights. ZIP-O!! These people are typically broken beyond repair. This is the one area of our legal system that needs to be re-evaluated and changes to be made.

O.K. I will get off my soap box. Sorry to vent.... but I'm with you. Who does this type of torture to their own children?!

Saturday, September 22, 2007 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger B said...

As an elementary school teacher child abuse is often on my mind. I don't know the laws anywhere else, but in Ontario I am required to personally report each and every suspicion I have about the welfare of a child to the Children's Aid Society. This can not be done on my behalf by my principal. I often think to myself, "If I'm wrong parent interview times are certainly going to be strained, but if I'm right..." One year I called to report 11 suspected cases of abuse and/or neglect out of 26 first graders. 2 of those cases required ongoing support to the family and a third, a little boy, never returned home to live with dad again. I'd like to think 8 mistakes made the lives of 3 children in my care better in the long term. It is horrifying to call but I can only imagine how horrifying it must be to live in some of those homes...so I call.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 8:26:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

My friend's brother works for the FBI in the child pornography division. He has to sit through videos. God bless him.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 10:23:00 PM  

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