Very early in my career, I saw a 13-year-old child being brought into court for his waiver proceedings. I read the news reports of a gang initiation murder perpetrated by an adult and this youth. The reports were horrific and I made assumptions about the youth accordingly. When I saw him, I realized immediately how wrong I was – he was slight; his arms and shoulders weighed down by the belly chains and wrist cuffs; his grey sweatshirt (the uniform in detention) swallowed him. How could anyone seeing what I saw believe that he should be tried as an adult? He was waived into adult court and he was convicted three months prior to arguments in Miller. However, the judge, based on the briefing in the Miller case agreed that he should not be sentenced to life without parole. Then, nearly 5 years later, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed the waiver decision finding that children are different – the closest we have come in Oregon to a “reasonable juvenile standard.”
Through observing his case, I internalized the importance of juvenile advocacy; how continuing one’s education and training is critical to bringing forth and arguing novel and creative concepts to a court to challenge the status quo. I apply these lessons and employ that type and level of advocacy in my own work with both juveniles and adults involved in both the justice system and child welfare system. Since 2009, I worked directly with children and adults in order to ensure the principles of due process are maintained. This involved appearing in court on a near daily basis to be their voice but also working with my clients in the community to access services such as drug an alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, visitation, 504/IEP’s, and other social services to help them making lasting, positive change.
As I moved forward in my career, I realized that as much as I tried to achieve the best possible outcomes from my clients, I was still forced to work within a system that was deeply unfair and unjust. Therefore, I worked to better the outcomes for youth and families through actively engaging community leaders at the local, county, Tribal, and state levels in developing policies to achieve measurable and positive change. Examples include:
- Working with the local county judges, caseworkers, and attorneys to develop procedures to schedule meetings early in the dependency process in order to achieve permanency for children in a more timely fashion.
- Educating attorneys on a variety of issues including, defending shaken baby cases, how to obtain discovery and other records, how to ethically represent children, child welfare’s obligation to provide reasonable efforts for reunification, and including grand parents in the child welfare process.
- Participating in the Parent Child Representation Program pilot, which reduced incarceration rates for delinquent youth and decreased the time to permanency for dependent children.
- Developing with the OCDLA Juvenile subcommittee and testifying in support of HB 2616, which would require that delinquent youth be appointed an attorney rather than just be informed of their right to counsel. This law would eliminate the issue of uninformed waiver of counsel in Oregon.
In my spare time, I also write on various issues related to delinquency and dependency issues. My focus is varied – from relief from sex offender registration to adolescent development to ensuring access to appropriate services. Despite my wide-ranging interests, the common theme is making sure that our most vulnerable have the opportunity to succeed.