Friday, May 30, 2008

The unbearable vindictiveness of Judge Walther

See updates at the end of this post

Twelve judges – every higher court judge who has ever looked at the case – say Judge Barbara Walther was wrong when she rubber-stamped the removal of boys and young girls from the YFZ ranch. Nine of those judges said she was wrong to approve taking the rest of the girls as well.

Ever since the first three judges, on an appellate court, ruled against her, Judge Walther has made her displeasure clear. But apparently her vindictiveness knows no bounds.

This afternoon CPS and 38 parents – the ones whose cases were the subject of the Texas Supreme Court Ruling – reached an agreement. The children would be returned subject to certain conditions, most of them reasonable. (One that was unreasonable: requiring every parent to take a standard-issue CPS parenting course. It's almost as if CPS can't bear to allow an agreement or a case plan to exist without that one.) The agreement also said the families can't leave Texas, at least through August 31. It allowed unannounced visits to the ranch, and required the parents to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

But that wasn't enough for Judge Walther. She decided to impose a series of extra conditions of her own, which appear to have no purpose other than harassment. (Both draft agreements are posted on the website of KXAN-TV) For example, under the Judge's proposed order, no child could be taken more than 60 miles from the ranch unless CPS was given 48 hours advance notice. It also would require the children and parents to submit to psychiatric examinations, and in the case of the children medical examinations – often essentially a CPS euphemism for stripsearches. And when the allegation is sexual abuse, the exams are more traumatic still.

Of course, as the investigation proceeds, there may be cause to seek such examinations, on a case-by-case basis, with the court approving them if CPS provides sufficient evidence that they are needed. (Unfortunately, courts typically approve whatever CPS wants whether it's needed or not). There may be cause to make other changes, one case at a time. But Judge Walther proposed to skip over such niceties and simply grant a blanket approval CPS didn't even request.

When lawyers for the parents objected, the judge said she'd sign the original order after all – but only if every one of the 38 parents signed it first. There's just one problem with that: The 38 parents are scattered all across Texas – because that's where their children are.

Of course, this can be done – eventually. Or, as seems likely, lawyers for the parents will go back to the appellate court.

So in the end the same agreement probably will take effect. The only difference is, the anguish of the children will be prolonged – all because of one judge's astounding vindictiveness.


--For an excellent account of what went on in judge Walther's court, including a very good summary of the differences between the two proposed agreements, see this story in today's Salt Lake Tribune.

--Scott Henson, proprietor of the excellent Texas law and justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, put it perfectly: "After her petulant display in the courtroom yesterday, it's increasingly clear the judge has taken rebukes by higher courts personally and begun to behave like a pouting 9-year old. "


--Two more newspapers from outside Texas have said CPS got it wrong: The Worcester, (Mass.) Telegram, and the Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, Tenn.

As far as I can tell, since the appellate court ruled, that brings the number of editorial pages from outside Texas and Utah condemning Texas CPS to 11. The number supporting CPS: 0 - which is the same number of editorial boards outside Texas asking aloud if the same abuses of power are happening in their states.

Meanwhile, in what reads like a compromise forged after a very long editorial board meeting, the Star-Telegram essentially says yes, no, maybe, and only time will tell, while still missing the fundamental point. According to the Star-Telegram, "The fundamental questions of parental rights vs. the state's duty to protect children remain unanswered."

That's the way CPS wants to frame the issue, in order to divert attention from the massive act of institutionalized child abuse it committed. The real question is "what's the best, most effective way to protect children?" If you think the best way is to intern hundreds of them in a kiddie-Guantanamo, then scatter them throughout the state in foster care, where the rate of abuse is enromous, while traumatizing many of them emotionally, some of them probably for life - then you've got to applaud CPS. If, on the other hand, this seems like destroying children in order to save them, then the first thing you've got to do is stop confusing such destruction with "the state's duty to protect children."

But, this is still better than the Houston Chronicle, whose position apparently boils down to: damn the law, full speed ahead!