A CPS Nightmare
February 11th, 2010 — 12:23 pm — by Matt Brown The prosecutor scratched the charges because my client was not guilty of the crime. This wasn’t one of those maybe-she-did-it-but-we-can’t-prove-it cases. The sum of information available about what happened should have made it obvious to anyone with half a brain that my client did nothing wrong. She did not assault her daughter.
My client’s innocence notwithstanding, some of the folks over at Arizona Child Protective Services, either lacking half a brain or bored with nothing to do, decided to meddle. “We just want to get your client’s side of things,” they said. I found out about the meeting exactly one business day before it was set to happen.
I don’t represent people in dependencies. I attended the meeting with CPS because I never trust the government to respect my clients’ rights. The handful of lawyers I asked about CPS matters said it was unusual for attorneys to go to those meetings, but my innocent client in a den of wolves less than a day after her criminal case went away seemed like a recipe for a set-up. I wanted to be there to make sure they didn’t put words in her mouth that might resurrect the criminal case.
The meeting was conducted by a woman who proclaimed herself the “facilitator.” She used the term “facilitator” with the kind of frequency I commonly encounter when a person using a word doesn’t quite know what it means and thinks repeating it will make him or her appear smart. She also said things like “matter-of-factly” and “irregardlessly.”
My client, my client’s mother, the assigned CPS caseworker, and I were all in attendance. We each filled out little name cards. The back of the cards featured a list of ground rules. The last one was “no blaming or shaming.” The hearing had very specific rules and a set order. Every document, every meeting, every location, and every concept seemed to have an acronym. This was a TDM where a TCN might issue, attended by the CFT at CPS.
The facilitator, who at times did a fair job of pretending to be impartial, generally undertook the role of grand inquisitress with zeal that would make Mike Nifong blush. When she first started attacking my client, no one seemed to notice my comment that it sounded an awful lot to me like some prohibited “blaming or shaming” was taking place. I don’t think the facilitator thought the back of the name cards applied to her.
My client, a wonderful person I believe to be an excellent mother, explained all she had done for her daughter. She had a steady job, a safe home, and clearly cared about both of her children. I was impressed when she explained the lengths she went to in order to get services for that daughter. Her description of the bureaucratic runaround she got dealing with insurance was met with disbelief by the facilitator and the case worker though. They couldn’t imagine anyone would have trouble dealing with the health care system. When I told them I’ve struggled assisting clients to get similar services set up, it was obvious they thought I was lying. Not their flawless, well-oiled machine!
The facilitator clearly didn’t listen to anything my client said. My client said she’d do anything for her kids, and the facilitator responded with “so you’re unwilling and unable to care for them?” “No,” my client said, “I will do anything.” The caseworker and facilitator stared at my client like she just said “take my kids, I don’t care and won’t do anything to help them.” It was like watching two different conversations.
When it suited the facilitator’s preconceptions, she mixed up the facts. She exaggerated the length of CPS’s involvement, the amount of time it took my client to get services for her daughter, the number of days of notice they’d given, and the severity of the alleged conduct underlying the scratched criminal charges. She was wholly incapable of wrapping her head around the fact my client did not assault her daughter. The caseworker claimed she saw choke marks on my client’s daughter, which the facilitator agreed proved my client assaulted her. I found that very strange considering that the alleged assault was supposedly just three punches.
The facilitator kept telling me, “we have a lower standard here.” Neither she nor the caseworker read the police reports. They didn’t interview the other adult who witnessed what happened. They didn’t talk to the prosecutor. They thought lower standard meant no standard. They assumed my client was guilty and that the charges were dropped for some reason having nothing to do with innocence. They wouldn’t listen to anything to the contrary.
When my client admitted she was open to getting help dealing with her daughter’s issues, the facilitator said CPS couldn’t do anything she couldn’t do herself. I asked the facilitator why CPS would need to take the kids if my client could do everything they could, and I got the kind of reaction I used to get when I said a familiar word more than once to my dog; a look hinting at partial understanding, head cocked to one side.
I’ve never been in a room with people who resented me more. Over and over again, they said the same thing: “maybe we could have done X, but you said you had a lawyer.” It was always followed by a spiteful glance. The caseworker claimed she didn’t interview the person who witnessed what happened between my client and her daughter because my client hired a lawyer. To be clear, my client and the witness are two different people. I guess hiring a lawyer stops CPS from figuring out what happened.
After what I can honestly say was the most farcical proceeding I’ve ever witnessed, the facilitator and caseworker decided to take both of my client’s children away. In a meeting they said lawyers never attended (and which most lawyers told me they never attended), CPS decided to take not just the child involved in the criminal case, but the child who had nothing to do with anything. It was based almost entirely on an incident that occurred in front of an independent witness CPS didn’t interview and that was described in a police report CPS didn’t read. I explained the facts and made arguments, but they just didn’t care.
I occasionally appear in front of some bad judges in criminal matters, but I’ve never encountered anything like that. In what might be the most frustrating decision of all, they decided they couldn’t place the children with the other adult who witnessed what happened because “she failed to protect the child” during the alleged abuse. That’s the same alleged abuse that by all accounts but one never happened, and which CPS never properly researched
As my client cried her eyes out, the facilitator handed her a pamphlet entitled “Icebreakers” to help her prepare for when she next gets to see her children. The facilitator described CPS’s programs to my client as if she expected my client to give her a hug and thank her. The facilitator and caseworker then decided that my client’s visitation should be at the discretion of CPS; no set hours, just left to the discretion of some bureaucrats. I was disgusted.
My client is now in the hands of a very capable lawyer who does dependencies. Personally, I’m still in shock. I can’t believe what I saw. I can’t believe CPS can take kids based on nothing, can’t believe the facilitator and the caseworker could do something like that to a family, and can’t believe that any human being could be so willing to make a life-changing decision so callously. It’s the kind of thing I’m going to have nightmares about for years to come.