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By: Emma Connolly, EBCLO Summer Intern 2017
In 2016, EBCLO attorney Rob Waring decided to file a writ of mandate in the California Court of Appeal on behalf of his client N.S. Because preparing all the necessary briefs involves many days of preparation on very short timeframes, he partnered with lawyers from Bay Area Legal Aid. This strategy paid off: our client’s writ was granted and the decision was published earlier this year. The decision, N.S. v. Superior Court, has important implications for many of EBCLO’s clients, who, like N.S. struggle with mental health issues.
A longtime EBCLO client, N.S. entered foster care at the age of 11 where she remained upon reaching adulthood. Thanks to the AB12 extended foster care program N.S. was able to continue receiving services after turning 18. N.S. was homeless and struggling with drug addiction, and desperately needed continued access to foster care services. Luckily, in 2015 the county recommended that N.S. be found eligible for extended services in light of her mental health issues.
Unfortunately, a year later the county sought to dismiss N.S.’s case from extended foster care. At a trial the county called N.S. to testify, and she spoke to her understanding of her eligibility for extended foster care services: N.S. stated that she was told she was eligible in light of her mental health. The county later called N.S.’s therapist to testify as to N.S.’s mental health diagnoses. She refused, citing therapist-patient confidentiality. The judge agreed with the county that N.S. put her mental health at issue and ordered the therapist to testify. EBCLO attorney Rob Waring, wary of what this would mean not only for N.S. but other EBCLO clients and their therapists, asked for a stay in order to file a writ seeking appellate review of the trial court’s order.
The Court of Appeal agreed with EBCLO and issued a stay. It ordered the trial court to vacate the order requiring N.S.’s therapist to answer the county’s questions. The appellate court found that N.S. had not independently placed her mental state at issue, because she discussed her mental health only in response to the county attorney’s questions. Further, N.S.’s testimony as to her eligibility was informed by the county’s own recommendation, made in 2015, that she be found eligible for services in light of her mental health needs. N.S. had not put her mental state at issue by testifying to the county’s prior recommendation.
This appellate ruling is not only important for N.S., but for all of EBCLO’s clients with mental health issues and those similarly situated throughout the state. It takes talented therapists to build trusting relationships with EBCLO’s clients, who often have traumatic backgrounds. These therapeutic relationships begin with a therapist’s promise that what our clients discuss in therapy will be kept private. With that promise therapists open up lines of communications that not only help our clients heal from their experiences, but also help them build trusting relationships with other adults. Thanks to this recent decision, our clients and their therapists know that EBCLO will go the extra mile to protect the private nature of the work they do together.
To read the entire opinion, see: N.S. v. Superior Court (2016) 7 Cal.App.5th 713
We are now hiring an attorney into our Probate Counsel for Children program. Looking for someone with at least three years experience representing children. Please see attached job description.
EBCLO is hiring a new dependency attorney. Applications due June 9, 2017 at 5 p.m.
“Last week, 50 local chief judges sent a letter to Brown and legislators seeking – actually begging – for this relatively tiny appropriation.” Read the full op ed article about the need for adequate dependency funding here.
Thank you to the Oakland Bay Area Links for their generous grant to EBCLO. We are honored to be among the organizations supported by this impressive group of women. The Links, Incorporated is an international, not-for-profit corporation, established in 1946. The membership consists of nearly 14,000 professional women of color in 281 chapters located in 41 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. It is one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of extraordinary women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry. Oakland Bay Area Links was founded in 1950 on the principles of friendship and service. The local chapter has been delivering quality programs and support for the past 66 years and has been a part of advocating for and serving those who need the most help. We are delighted to partner with Oakland Bay Area Links in this endeavor.
Many thanks to long time EBCLO supporters who will match every donation made to EBCLO through East Bay Gives up to $22,500! What is East Bay Gives? It’s a 24-hour-online giving blitz celebrating the generosity of the Bay Area. It takes place May 4th, but if you’ll be too busy posting Star Wars references (May the 4th Be With You), you can “schedule” your donation for midnight starting now.
If you are an insomniac or would just love to help your money go even further, help us win a $3000 prize from East Bay Community Foundation by helping us get the most unique donations between 1 and 2 am on May 4th. Unfortunately, these donations cannot be scheduled in advance, but we’ll send out some reminders to set your alarm clock!
Last year, East Bay Gives successfully rallied over 8,000 donors to raise more than $1 million for nonprofits like ours that make the East Bay region a special place to live, work and thrive. In 2017, East Bay Gives aims to mobilize more than 40,000 people to give $5 million to support hundreds of nonprofits in the East Bay, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco.
Great article covering EBCLO’s budget cuts was on the front page of the East Bay Times yesterday. To read the article and see the video visit: http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/03/13/attorneys-more-funding-needed-to-help-east-bay-foster-youths/
The following is an article published in the Daily Journal on January 12, 2017.
Dependency lawyers bemoan governor’s refusal to boost budget
Dependency attorneys say they are overburdened
By L.J. Williamson
When a budget increase for dependency counsel funding was yanked from the 2014 California budget at the eleventh hour, Ed Howard, for the first time in his professional career, cried. But now that attorneys who represent abused and neglected children have been through the same experience for three of the last four budgets, they are “saddened, but not surprised.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget numbers for dependency counsel stayed flat, offering no relief to overloaded dependency lawyers. The Judicial Council has said that dependency attorneys should handle a maximum 141 cases, but in many counties, attorneys are acting as advocates for nearly twice that number of children.
“We’re now down to 220 as the average caseload in LA, but we were at over 300 in 2014 when we started this journey,” said Leslie Starr Heimov, executive director of Children’s Law Center of California, a dependency counsel nonprofit.
Howard, senior counsel for University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, and other dependency attorneys were heartened when the Legislature increased dependency counsel funding by $11 million in 2015. But no other budgetary help has followed since then.
“It’s hard to find a more compelling need in the court system, and yet the budget proposes to increase spending for judges’ salaries and benefits but not dependency cases,” said Kevin G. Baker, Legislative Director for ACLU California.
Baker said the state’s failure to provide sufficient funding for dependency counsel has violated children’s and parents’ rights to competent and effective representation in dependency proceedings.
Without more money, the language being bandied about in dependency circles — words like “crisis” and “collapse” — are apt, Howard said.
“Imagine yourself in this job. You wake up every day and know that you’re violating your own ethics,” lamented Howard. “At worst, lawyers throughout the state will say, ‘No more, I can’t take any more cases.'” Howard said he has spoken to large numbers of lawyers who have said they have thought about rejecting more cases. The dependency budget doesn’t have to be perfected this year, he explained, “but we can’t be shut out again.”
California is facing a number of significant pressures, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs for the state Department of Finance, with revenue receipts below projections and the unknowns that come with the incoming Trump administration. “All of those things make a strong case for a prudent budget.”
It isn’t that anyone opposes funding for counsel for abused and neglected kids, said Senator Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee, who said the issue has bipartisan support. “I think what you may hear from the administration is the priorities, in the overall scheme of things. You’re not going to get anybody that says we oppose it because children aren’t worthy.”
The issue is righteous, Mitchell said, but is one of many competing interests the state is trying to address as the state’s financial recovery proceeds. Other items that did receive boosts in the 2017 budget include K-12 education, early learning programs, foster care youth education, and in-home supportive services for the disabled.
There’s a danger of addressing critical public policy issues through the budget process, Mitchell said, where the weight of the issue can sometimes be lost when stuck with a price tag. “It could be the most critical issue to the most Californians, but particularly in this case, there’s no strong, supersonic lobby,” she added.
Others echoed Mitchell’s sentiment that a lack political juice works against the issue. Foster kids don’t show up at political rallies, and they don’t vote.
Dependency Legal Services, for example, is a nonprofit law firm that exclusively offers indigent representation in dependency cases, with contracts in nine counties. But Chief Operating Officer David Meyers said he may be forced to close shop in one or more of those locations.
“I just feel deflated and disappointed,” Meyers said of the string of budget defeats. According to calculations from the Judicial Council, the total need for court-appointed dependency counsel is $202.9 million per year. The $114.7 million in the current state budget meets only 57 percent of that need.
“There are three types of counties: ‘underfunded,’ ‘severely underfunded,’ and ‘in crisis,'” Meyers said. “The actual dollars are so low we may have no choice but to leave … for people like me doing this for more than 20 years, you can’t work for less than you would get at a minimum wage job.”
In Mendocino County, Meyers said there are only about five attorneys representing all of that county’s children in dependency. And one of them is actively looking for another job, he said.
Firm closures are not theory, but reality. In October, Dependency Legal Group of San Diego (DLG) closed its doors after its contract with the Judicial Council expired.
“The State’s new budget for juvenile dependency representation in San Diego County can no longer support the organizational structure of DLG and the accompanying scope of services it has been providing the community since 2010,” DLG explained on its webpage.
Meyers and others said the Judicial Council is largely to blame for the disparities, because of an outmoded formula for allocating funds.
The Judicial Council instituted a four-year reallocation plan in 2015 to more equitably distribute funds, which benefited some counties but further starved others. A subcommittee directed to reexamine the allocation formula is expected to report back to the council this May.
“The primary issue is not the allocation formula adopted by the Judicial Council; the primary issue is adequate funding for court-appointed dependency counsel who do vital and life-saving work on behalf of the state’s dependent children,” said a Judicial Council spokesperson. “That’s why the council continues to advocate every year for adequate funding for this and other important needs.”
The hope of the reallocation plan was that it would include additional funds, Heimov said. “Equity is an important part of the solution, but it doesn’t work all by itself.”Heimov said advocates will spend the next five and a half months trying to get more money in the May revised budget. If that doesn’t happen, they have little choice but to keep going.
“Most of us can’t say no to new clients because our contracts say we will represent 100 percent of the children,” she said. “What ends up happening is we work harder but are able to do less for each child.”
Lawyers are forced to triage, and the kids who are not in crisis don’t get attention, Heimov said. That might mean immediately sorting out Medi-Cal coverage for the infant with a 103-degree fever, but postponing work for the 10-year-old who’s being expelled for acting out in school.
“I don’t want to do this for the next 20 years asking for money,” Heimov said. “I want to get where the funding is adequate so we can do our jobs.”
Janssen & Associates is conducting EBCLO’s search for a new Executive Director. To see the job description and instructions about how to apply click here: FINAL-EBCLO-ED-Job-Announcement-2017-1
EBCLO’s Community-based Advocacy for Resources and Education (C.A.R.E.) program was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Andrus Family Fund this week. The grant will help the East Bay Children’s Law Offices implement programming which protects the rights of foster youth beyond the courtroom by promoting educational equity, healthy transitions to young adulthood, and trauma-informed responses and services. The Andrus Family Fund seeks to foster just and sustainable change in the United States. They support organizations that advance social justice and improve outcomes for vulnerable youth. EBCLO is grateful to be among the organizations supported by the Andrus Family Fund and looks forward to continued collaboration for the benefit of Alameda County youth.