Thursday, March 16, 2017

#CASAsoWhite: Judge’s decisions reveal extent of scandal at a Washington State CASA

Last year, I wrote about the scandal at the Volunteer Guardian-ad-litem (VGAL) program in Snohomish County, Wash., an affiliate of the state’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) network.
CASA is a white, middle-class bastion of the child welfare system, a system that tears apart families that are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately families of color. The most comprehensive study ever done of the program found that it does nothing to make children safer. The study also found that CASA prolongs foster care and reduces the chances children will be placed with relatives instead of strangers.
Last year, I wrote about how Judge Anita Farris found that a volunteer for the Snohomish County program “infiltrated” – the judge’s word – a listserv for family defense attorneys and passed on what she’d learned so her program could use the information against families. The judge called the guardian’s explanation of her actions “filled with lies.”
But that was only the beginning. In two more court rulings, revolving around the same termination of parental rights case, Judge Farris has blasted the VGAL program for “the blatant withholding and destruction of evidence and … rampant continuing lying …”

“This was not just a lot of lying,” Judge Farris said in one decision:

It was lying with no concern that you were lying. It was lying with “I don’t care if I get caught.” It was lying again and again and again after getting caught. It was lying under circumstances where it could be absolutely proven you were lying.

“Pervasive and egregious” misconduct

In another decision, the judge said her rulings “should not be interpreted to mean the entire program or every VGAL has committed misconduct. They have not.” But for those who did, she declared: “The misconduct was not minor or insubstantial. It was pervasive and egregious.”

There’s more about this ruling in this story from KING-TV:
The judge found that the misconduct violated state and county rules for Guardians ad litem.  The program’s explanation: According to the judge, well into the proceedings, the head of the program declared that no one in the program had ever heard of such rules. Said Judge Farris:

Are we to believe that [the program’s] staff attorney … who’s been there for decades, has never once mentioned the GAL rules to any VGAL employee?  … It would be akin to an attorney general saying none of his deputies was aware of the criminal code…

Judge Farris found that VGALs do get training in “how to keep things out of discovery,” the legal process by which each party obtains information from the other essential for preparing their case. These actions, she said, denied parents information they have an “absolute right” to receive.  Sometimes, she wrote, the files just disappeared:

The sheer number of unexplained missing pieces of evidence, all showing misconduct, is remarkable. … The inescapable conclusion is that [someone] in the VGAL program scrubbed discovery to hide VGAL misconduct.

The judge found that a supervisor provided trial testimony that was:
uninformed, inconsistent, dishonest, and biased. … The mutations in testimony followed a pattern. First, she would testify to an inaccurate fact that either supported her recommendation or hid VGAL misconduct. Then, only if confronted about the inaccuracy, she would completely reverse her prior testimony and cough up the truth.

After the judge describes what she said was one misrepresentation after another, she concludes:
Not one of these fabrications did anything to promote the interests of a child. These were not well-intentioned lies. Without exception, their sole purpose was to hide the misconduct of the liar, and that was done at the expense of this child.

“A pattern of retaliation”

Also, according to Judge Farris:
The Snohomish County VGAL program engaged in a pattern of retaliation against the mother’s attorneys during this case.

 The judge noted similar complaints in other cases, though she did not rule on their validity:

One declaration [from a lawyer in another case] alleged that after an attorney had made a complaint against a Snohomish VGAL, the VGAL knew about the complaint, changed her VGAL recommendation and began a vehement witch hunt. This retaliation went on so long, and was so rabid, the lawyer felt compelled to withdraw for the sake of her client …
 Declarations also were submitted from foster parents, in another case, indicating they made a complaint against the VGAL … and the VGAL retaliated by trying to have the child removed from the foster parents.

 After listing several more instances she deemed acts of retaliation, Judge Farris concluded:

It is impossible to measure how and to what extent retaliation against a small firm in this small community affects the willingness of all parent attorneys to zealously advocate to protect their clients’ constitutional rights to raise their children. … When VGALs retaliate, they are putting their personal passions for revenge ahead of the needs of any children whose best interests they are supposed to protect.

A lawyer for the firm that was subjected to what the judge called retaliation summarized the particulars here.

As of March 13, 2017, the website for the Snohomish VGAL program states that it is still “accredited by the National CASA Association and is an associated member of Washington State CASA.”


Perhaps those groups should take a closer look at what’s going on in Snohomish County.