PA Judge Runs Amok in Child Protection Case

May 9, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s a judge who needs to find another job (ABA Journal, 5/8/18). From here she looks to be part of a system that prefers foster care and adoption to parental care, pretty much regardless of how fit and loving the parents are.

N.M. was an infant when her parents took her to her pediatrician because she was “fussy.” The doctor thought she had an ear infection, gave the parents antibiotics and let them go. The fussiness got worse, so they returned to the doctor who ordered a chest X-ray that revealed minor fractures of two ribs.

Enter the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, a.k.a. the children’s protective agency. DHS took both N.M. and her toddler brother into foster care, each with a different family. But strangely, the little boy was soon returned to his parents. Only N.M. remained in foster care. (If the parents were child abusers, why keep only one child in their care?)

The issue of what to do – determine the cause of N.M.’s injury, decide on foster care, parenting classes, evaluations, etc. – fell to Family Court Judge Lyris Younge, who promptly made her biases clear.

The problem for the parents was that no one could figure out how N.M. had sustained her fractured ribs. She had no genetic disorder that would cause fragile bones and the parents steadfastly denied hurting the child. Mom mentioned that N.M.’s brother would sometimes slam into her when Mom was holding her, but no expert said that was the cause.

Meanwhile, the parents wanted N.M. to be placed in kinship care with her paternal grandmother. The grandmother was vetted by DHS and found to be a fit, loving caregiver with whom N.M. thrived. Given that it’s state policy to place children in kinship care when possible, you might think the matter of N.M.’s placement to be clear cut.

It wasn’t, at least not with Judge Younge in charge. Younge preferred stranger care for N.M., despite state policy and the opinion of the DHS. Why? With no evidentiary basis whatsoever, she simply decided that the parents would sneak over to grandma’s house to visit their daughter when DHS wasn’t looking and, well, we can’t have that.

Now, at no time did anyone find that the parents had abused the child. The only established facts were that the child had been injured and no one could figure out how. But Judge Younge decided that they must have done so and immediately changed the nature of the proceedings from reunification of the family to termination of the parent’s rights pursuant to adoption of N.M. by strangers.

Why? Judge Younge demanded that they admit to injuring their child. When they persistently refused, she figured the best way to get a confession from them was to terminate their rights and shanghai their daughter into the adoption market.

 “Either someone has to cop to it or there has to be a plausible explanation” for the injuries, Younge said.

“If I leave her [in foster care] maybe I get closer to an answer as to what happened instead of moving her to grandmom. … So, I’m not going to consider kinship care.”

Eagerly going along with that program, a caseworker for DHS opined that their refusal to admit guilt was evidence of guilt.

(We’ve seen that from the justice system many times before. The Innocence Project has demonstrated the actual innocence of numerous people over the years, many of whom were treated more harshly than otherwise because they refused to admit their guilt (even though they weren’t guilty). Doug Bressie, the Idaho man who fought the child protective system for four years, and about whom I wrote last week, was blackmailed the same way. The idea that the very state that can’t prove your guilt holds your denial of guilt as proof of guilt is truly Kafkaesque.)

Perhaps more amazing than that was the fact that, when the parents located two doctors who were willing to testify that the child’s injury could have been caused by something other than abuse, Younge simply refused to allow their testimony or to enter their reports into evidence. Proof of Younge’s frank bias in the case doesn’t get much clearer than that.

So Younge terminated the parents’ rights to N.M. on the sole basis that she’d been injured. Fortunately, the parents appealed. The appellate court was none too pleased with Younge’s behavior.

A state appeals court has accused a Pennsylvania judge of “judicially created parental alienation” and a failure to provide due process when she kept a baby in “protracted foster care” after receiving no explanation for broken ribs and then terminated parental rights…

“In short, despite the goals of the Child Protective Services Law, the trial judge seems to have done everything in her power to alienate these parents from their child, appears to have a fixed idea about this matter and, further, she prohibited evidence to be introduced that might have forced her to change her opinion,” the appeals court said.

Just in case anyone should be misled, the appellate court strongly suggested that, on remand to her court, Younge should recuse herself from further participation in the case. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an appellate court be that frank about what it thought of the behavior of a trial court judge.

The appeals court noted the comments in a footnote at the end of the opinion. “While this court must take and does take the issue of abuse of a child very seriously,” the footnote said, “the fact that a trial judge tells parents that unless one of them ‘cops to an admission of what happened to the child’ they are going to lose their child, flies in the face of not only the CPSL, but of the entire body of case law with regard to best interests of the child and family reunification.

“We find that the record herein provides example after example of overreaching, failing to be fair and impartial, evidence of a fixed presumptive idea of what took place, and a failure to provide due process to the two parents involved.”

That’s a pretty fair description of the child protective system as countless parents know it. At least the appellate court stood up to that system in this instance. But of course the parents’ fight is far from over. They still have another judge and DHS to deal with, their child is still in foster care and the end is nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, it seems that Judge Young is a serial abuser of parents.

The Legal Intelligencer covered the decision in consolidated appeals by the mother and father. According to the publication, it is the ninth time one of Younge’s rulings has been overturned on appeal, and the fifth involving an alleged due process issue.

As I said, she’s a judge who needs to find another job.




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