“NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 18, 2017) — On Saturday, The Post & Email reported that a Good Friday status hearing in Edelman Children’s Court for a Los Angeles toddler taken from her mother last year and placed with her father resulted in an upcoming “contested hearing” to take place on April 25.
The courts and government offices of many states were closed on Good Friday, but not in California. Pennsylvania‘s government also was open that day. Some municipalities in other states made their own decisions.
In Saturday’s article, Michelle Robinson* detailed her observations of the hearing as well as those of a companion who attended with her.
Friday’s “status hearing” was held because of the case having aged to just over a year and the existing regulatory requirement that it be closed. Robinson told The Post & Email that it is her understanding that state funding is terminated for cases such as hers wherein the child is placed with a biological parent as opposed to a foster home.
From the outset, Robinson has protested the actions and decisions of LAPD Detective Sean Horton, DCFS social workers and their supervisors, judges, commissioners, referees and others involved directly or tangentially in removing her young daughter, who is now 28 months old, from her care.
Robinson’s ordeal began on December 20, 2015, when she agreed to bring her daughter to see her father on her first birthday. Robinson reported that he had been violent toward her earlier in the year, after which she expelled him from her home and obtained a restraining order. In an initial interview with The Post & Email, Robinson pointed out that a California statute states that the individual to whom the restraining order is granted is not in violation if he or she approaches the party so restrained.
On March 15, The Post & Email sent a letter by certified mail to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra out of concern for the three families, including Robinson’s, whose DCFS cases it has covered, beginning with the Hendersons’ in 2012. To date, we have received proof of receipt through the return of the green card from Becerra’s office but no further response.
The letter was copied to Gov. Gerry Brown, the Los Angeles bureau of the FBI, and the five elected members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Robinson’s county supervisor is Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose spokesman did not respond to The Post & Email’s request for comment on Robinson’s allegations of abuse of power and dishonesty against the Department.
Other Los Angeles families have reported that their children were removed without cause and, in some cases, sued and were awarded sizeable financial sums. In at least one case, a mother was awarded $3.1 million after DCFS seized her son six years prior. Even following the jury’s verdict in December 2016, Rafaelina Duval’s son has reportedly not been returned to her custody.
Foster parents have also sued the agency, accusing employees of failing to adhere to state law.
In December 2014, McMillan sued the County of Riverside for allegedly seizing five children from a family without cause, one of whom was a newborn baby.
Reform of the child-protective system has been called for on a national scale for some time.
For our initial article about Friday’s hearing, Robinson said that she expected that the status of each parent’s progress in DCFS-mandated education would be discussed but that the judge appeared intent on following a preordained agenda.
Part 1 of our report on the hearing concluded with Robinson’s summary of a number of restraining orders granted against her, including a new order served on behalf of DCFS supervisor Rene Sandoval, who Robinson encountered at a grocery story on April 3.
While a required box on the restraining order was not checked, Robinson said that the county counsel present at the hearing said, ‘I’ll check Box 5a right here in the courtroom and we’ll re-serve her.” Robinson also noted that the document was stamped “April 11, 2017,” not “April 14, 2017.”
“He kind-of threw it and it hit my hand, and the judge said, ‘OK, we’re acknowledging that she’s been served,'” Robinson detailed the exchange. She then said she responded, “Actually, I wasn’t served. There was a paper that was thrown at me that hit my hand that’s in front of me. I don’t know what the document is; it’s an unidentified document, so I have not been served.'”
One of the restraining orders requested that the daughter who is now in her father’s custody be added as a party. Although Robinson has not seen her daughter since October 31 because she has not found a suitable monitor, she was not legally restrained from doing so.
My attorney argued that there was no reason to include my daughter on the restraining order and that the attachments they had did not support it. She also argued against Eric’s mother’s restraining order because the mother said I contacted her church, which I did. I contacted the church because I don’t want my daughter’s photo on their website. I don’t agree with her church; I think it’s a cult, and I don’t want my daughter affiliated with it or attending it. But the mother felt harassed because I contacted the church. I think she just wanted to have something to say.
So I said to the judge, “Your Honor, all of that was already adjudicated, so I don’t understand why we’re talking about this. [Commissioner Steff] Padilla ruled on that; it’s over. If there are new facts to add, I’m OK with that.”
[Editor’s Note: Padilla recused herself from the case for an unspecified reason on March 7. Robinson has attempted unsuccessfully to discover the reason.]
And he said, “You have an attorney; let your attorney speak on your behalf.” So he basically allowed Eric’s attorney to say, “The picture of [my daughter] on the church website appeared since the last adjudication, so it’s new information.” It’s stale information at best, but they’re going to try to present it as new.
In terms of Eric’s restraining order, I had contacted his job, and that was an issue. The judge granted it, but he was going to grant it anyway.
“Were Eric and his mother there?” The Post & Email asked.
Yes, they both were there. She was sitting in the back, as my companion was, and they were there for the entire proceeding.
The judge granted the restraining orders and I raised my hand. At this point, I had interrupted a couple of times, so the judge said, “In my court, everyone gets an opportunity to speak. However, it must be timely, and nobody speaks until I tell them to speak.” I thought to myself, “Who is he talking to?” Then he finally said, “But if you really have something to say — although your attorney should be speaking for you — you can raise your hand.”
So I thought, “OK, well, that’s fair.”
As they were making up some of the claims to obtain the restraining order, there was something that was said about me that I didn’t agree with. They said that during my visits with my daughter, my behavior toward DCFS social workers placed her in danger. They claimed that on one of the visits at the Hawthorne Police Station, the police officers had to escort me and make me leave. That was not true; that is exactly what did not happen. The watch commander told DCFS that it is a public building; he could not make me leave; all he could do was lock the lobby. That was how my older daughter ended up playing with XXXXX through the glass door.
My visit was supposed to be two hours, and I told him that even though he was locking the lobby at 7:00, I intended to stay until 7:30. He told us that he could not make me leave the property and that I could continue to visit out front.
That is not what was said in court. Someone said that someone told me to leave and that I had to be escorted off the property. That’s defamatory.
So I raised my hand to address that, but I was raising my hand in vain because the judge didn’t look up to acknowledge me or to see my hand in the air. I kept looking back at my companion as if to say, “See, note that my hand is still up in the air and nobody’s listening to me.”
Then I remembered I had a stopwatch that I use when I exercise. So I said to myself, “Let me put my timer on because I want to see how long my hand is going to be in the air.” As I was trying to put the timer on, the deputy who was behind me — there were three deputies in the courtroom, a captain and two deputies, which is not typical — said, “Your Honor, she’s trying to record the proceedings; she’s using her watch to record the proceedings.”
So I turned around and said, “I am absolutely NOT doing that. I’m actually trying to record the amount of time my hand is in the air and I’m being ignored. I’m not recording anything.”
The judge looked up and said, “Is there something you’d like to say?”
By that time, I had lost my train of thought, but to get something on the record, I made the allegation that Eric’s mother has the body of Fonya Wayne Harris buried in her yard and her son and her brother killed her.
As I was about to continue, Eric’s attorney was livid and said, “This has nothing to do with anything,” so the judge stopped me. Later, my companion told me that all the people in the back of the room were stunned. She said that when I first interrupted and the judge told me not to, they all snickered at me, and he raised his hand and told them to stop. And she said, “I liked him because he wasn’t just trying to malign you at that time. But I also got the feeling that everyone in that room knew everything before you came in.”
Then the judge said in response, “I already knew about that. We have gone through case management with this case, and we’re aware of that story.” And I said, “OK, I just wanted to get it on the record.” “It’s on the record,” the judge said.
“No one was concerned that you were alleging that your daughter’s father is a murderer?” The Post & Email asked, to which Robinson replied, “No, not even the least bit concerned.”
After I left, I told my companion, “I put that on the record on purpose. Now it puts him on notice. I just told you about a murder in a courtroom. Somebody should be doing something about this. I need to make everybody culpable. There were three bailiffs in there; somebody should have cared that there’s a body buried in the back yard.”
The last thing I said to the judge was that Eric’s attorney was upset because the LAPD is investigating.
On Monday, Robinson sent an email to a number of court employees, including commissioners; other state employees, her own attorney and others at LADL, Inc., a dependency law firm; this writer, and the Los Angeles NAACP, stating:
Dear Edelman Court or please forward to the appropriate person(s):
Laughing and Disruption from rear of courtroom:
The snickering in the back of the courtroom by the many unidentified individuals not part or parties to [case number] is quite disturbing and very unprofessional. When Judge Menetrez was giving his spiel on when I would be permitted to speak “when I allow you to speak,” was met with giggling by unknown and unidentified individuals behind me in the courtroom. I understand that court employees think my child’s safety is a joke and that they find the violations of my rights entertaining, but what is the purpose of allowing these disrespectful spectators in the courtroom during this matter?
Commissioner Padilla never allowed spectators without first asking on the record if all were in agreement. I understand that each bench officer behaves independently, but the utmost care, caution, and confidentiality should be exercised in this matter, if for no other reason than to protect the integrity of future litigation that may arise from this matter.
Presence of three deputies, including a sergeant:
I am curious as to why three deputies are present in on courtroom, including a sergeant, when most hearings only have on deputy/bailiff or two at most. As far as I know, Crutchfield is not in custody or under escort, so why are the taxpayers paying for three deputies? Better yet, why was one deputy positioned directly in front of me, facing me? And another cranky deputy hovering behind me attempting to read my watch? Is this really necessary or has Cruthfield made an attempt on my life that I am unaware of?
It is my contention that the above is prejudicial and the permissiveness of such actions is unique to this matter and the liberties that Edelman has permitted. The life and safety of my child is NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT. I expect this matter along with myself and my child to be treated with the dignity and respect that one would give a dignitary or any high brow person of whom the court respects.
Also an attorney was witnessed rolling her eyes and having quite obvious and negative body language whenever I would speak and/or address the court. Such behavior is unprofessional and meant to discredit my testimony or communication with the court. And the tossing her head back in an exasperated posture was disrespectful to me. The court may have been equally disrespected had it been aimed at a more favored individual.
Please ensure that the courtroom is more professional than on 4/14/2017 and less prejudicial (if possible) and perhaps is more objective and respectful of all persons rightfully entitled to be present in the courtroom. The discriminatory behavior and practices are obvious.
Thank you for respecting our taxpayers.