When parents appear in Juvenile Court they are handed a report written by a CPS social worker. It states the county’s side of the court case.
Who writes a similar report explaining the parents’ side of the case to the judge?
Legal documents explaining the parents’ side aren’t written because they have court-appointed attorneys that in general, often don’t care enough to take the time to produce legal documents. Many of these attorneys receive a flat fee per case so there’s no financial motivation for providing an aggressive defense for the parents.
Justice, by Pierre Subleyras
Most often, court appointed attorneys in Juvenile Court simply guide the parents through the hearings and advise them to sign a plea or stipulation of some kind, which implicates them as being guilty. If the parents sign (most do because their court-appointed attorneys are advising it) there will be no trial – no opportunity for them to protest their innocence or defend themselves. Without a trial there’s never going to be a time when the CPS social worker has to prove the county’s case.
So what should CPS victim-parents do to counteract the problem of having a court-appointed attorney who won’t aggressively defend them?
A few years ago I advised parents to write a letter to their attorneys to let them know what is expected of them. Get this on paper and keep a copy. If the attorney refuses to at least attempt to provide an adequate defense you’ll have proof that you requested one, and can sue in civil court for legal malpractice. Let’s hope your attorney problem never gets to that point.
Now I’ll explain what you can do to start the process off right – and that is to write your own legal document to give to the attorney. This document is called a “declaration of facts” and will state your side of the case. You can request that your attorney present this to the court so the judge will read it prior to making any decisions.
Your attorney is bound to have some opinion on this. Work it out with him or her and keep in mind that though the court-appointed attorneys usually don’t want to do the work to produce legal documents in your defense, they may have excellent advice regarding what you’ve written. They usually are not intentionally against you, but simply don’t want to do a lot of work on your case for the small fee they receive.
When writing your declaration of facts, keep two things in mind:
1. NEVER write any self-incriminating statements into your declaration as this can be used against you. You’re trying to prove your innocence, and not give evidence to prove your guilt.
2. Keep it as brief as possible. The judge is far more likely to read it happily and thoroughly if your sentences are short and to the point, and if no unnecessary information is included. Brevity is golden when writing court documents. You want the judge to like you, not hate you because your statement was too long. Focus in on the most important issues and leave out everything else.
Here is a simple format for your declaration of facts, which should be double-spaced.
Declaration of Facts
I, ______________________________, state:
1. I am the
mother/father of three children: (Names of kids.)
2. This declaration is being written (state reason for writing the declaration of facts – for example, “in support of a motion to return children to mother” or, “to explain my side of the case to the court”.
3. This is in reference to (Case Name, Case Number, Date Filed and the name of the court.)
4. (Just state facts one at a time… I’ll give some examples.) On June 2, 2002 I let my children go to school as usual and while they were there a CPS employee interviewed them without letting me know first.
5. There were no witnesses to this interview and to my knowledge no recording was made.
6. My children were detained by the CPS employee and I was not notified by the school so by 4:30 when they didn’t come home from school I was worried about them and called the school to find out if they knew anything.
7. At first nobody wanted to tell me where my kids were and the phone was handed to three different people. Finally the principal got on the line and told me that CPS took my three kids because my son, Johnny, had a bruise on his arm and said I did it.
8. The bruise happened because he climbed the apple tree and then got scared and couldn’t get down. I climbed up there and grabbed him and had to lower him down by his arm and that’s how he got bruised.
9. By the time I got off the phone with the principal of the school, it was only a few minutes before five PM so I called CPS but only got a recording and nobody would answer. It was Friday and I couldn’t get through to them all weekend and even went to the office twice but it was closed. That was why I didn’t check on them for two days – not because I didn’t care which is what the worker, Judy Jones, made it sound like in court on Wednesday.
10. I haven’t seen my children in three weeks because they say I’m a danger to them. This is not true. In fact most of what they say about me is not true which is why I’m contesting the charges and asking for a full trial to make them try to prove their untrue statements.
11. The CPS employees I talk to on the phone are extremely rude to me. They are Judy Jones and her supervisor, Mr. Smith. Judy Jones said very sarcastically: “You should never have had kids if you were going to hurt them. People like you make me sick.” This woman, Judy Jones, won’t believe this happened in the apple tree.
12. I am requesting a court order for the return of my children immediately.
[NOTE: This last part should state the exact words used, just change the date and place to match your circumstance.]
Executed January, 1, 2003 Town, State
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.
For more information on how to write a declaration, check out this PDF file from Washington Law Help: How to Write a Declaration in a Family Law Case .
Basic Legal Drafting
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