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THE DARK SIDE: A day in children’s court

An ancient witticism goes something like this: The children are the future … And that’s why I stockpile so much ammunition.

Clever as the saying is, it is not a view to which I ascribe. I mean, sure, I do stockpile a lot of ammunition, but that’s not why.

On the contrary, besides practicing law, I recently started a side gig teaching chess to elementary school students. It never occurred to me that, after a long life of bachelorhood, I would discover that I love children. But there it is. I like some of the kids so much that I wish I could clone and sell them.

I teach in all sorts of schools — public, Catholic, Montessori. I haven’t the faintest idea what a Montessori school is, but the students there are great. I recommend it highly to anyone who has children.

I enjoy the children so much I was even considering going back to practicing law out at children’s court. I quit that back in the early 1990s because the system was so atrocious. I found that children just stayed in the system until they turned 18, no matter what their parents had done to them, and then were dumped out onto the street.

But I have been assured by many of people over the years that it has greatly improved. Parental rights actually get terminated and children actually get adopted, they said.

Nevertheless, when, back in August, one of the judges encouraged me to start taking cases out there, I said I’d look into it, without any actual intention of doing so.

Still, I was having so much fun teaching chess that I was thinking about it.

But then I ventured out there for a hearing that was ancillary to a criminal case I’m handling. I saw a system run by social workers who only know how to do two things: Turn a blind eye to horrific abuse or blast away at mosquitoes with bazookas.

I shared that observation the next day with a juvenile court judge and two of his clerks and they were very impressed by how perceptive I am. “Some do-gooders spend years in children’s court and never come to that realization,” one clerk said. “But you figured it out in just one day.”

“That’s because they’re just social workers with law degrees,” I replied, “rather than real lawyers; and they carry bazookas, too.”

So, I don’t think I’ll be going back to children’s court on any kind of regular basis any time soon.

Besides, helping people navigate the labyrinth of children’s court would require me to break all three of the cardinal rules I live by: don’t tell other people how to raise their children; don’t tell other people how to spend their money; and don’t tell women what to do, period.

Seriously, I don’t even wear a seat belt when I drive a car, but I should tell some mother she has to buy a car seat for her 8-year-old?

As The Who song says, “The kids are alright.” I’m sure they’ll be just fine without me. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to playing chess, amassing ammunition and experimenting with human cloning.


  1. I didn’t think it was possible to put 800 tons of cynicism in one page, but you have managed to do it.

    What scares the heck out of me is: I don’t disagree with any of it….

  2. I’ve never practiced in Children’s Court. If things are as bad as you claim, why not run a series of articles exposing the problems? And if judges see there is a problem, what are they doing about it? I’d like to know.

  3. I really didn’t set out to bash children’s courts here. Children’s courts have a radically different function than other courts. In a criminal court or a civil court, the objective is to do justice to the parties. In children’s court, the objective is to make the best of a bad situation. The people who work there try to do that to the best of their ability. The system has different objectives and requires different skill sets than regular courts. It’s just not for me, so I wrote a humorous column about it.

  4. As with any limited sample, things can be skewed one way with a small snippet and seem bleak. Those of us who practice Children’s Law do so with the hope and promise of things being made better for some, not all children. Such as two Wednesdays ago when I was able to attend the adoption of a child, for whom I had terminated his biological parent’s rights. The enhanced benefit was that I got to see his soon to be legal brother, who was in the same position about three years ago. I marveled at both his growth and development.

    One of the most frightening scenes in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to the yet unredeemed Ebenezer Scrooge two ragged and wolfish children–a boy and a girl, cowering in the folds of his robe. Even flint-hearted Scrooge is intimidated by the sight of them: \Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.\

    \Spirit,\ he asks, \are they yours?\

    \They are Man’s,\ the ghost replies. \And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree,…

    \They are Man’s,\ the ghost replies. \And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.\

    Children can be angels or devils, depending on the kind of nurturing they receive from others. They can grow into responsible and contributing members of society, or they can become its dependents, predators and outcasts. And because they are \Man’s\ children, they are everybody’s children. The whole society has a stake in their destiny and a duty to help them grow up strong and confident.

    From \Everybody’s Children\ Colin Powell – Time Dec. 1997

    We ALL have a stake in whatever child comes through Children’s Court, I prefer to take advantage of what, however sometimes meager, opportunity presents itself to make a change for a child, rather than let a one day experience color my outlook.

  5. amen to that, mr. rehfeldt.

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