Youth in Court Need Attorneys Who Represent Their Interests Fairly, Strongly
From the San Francisco Daily Journal Monday, July 17, 2000
By Alanna Krause
Hundreds of years of legal history have lead the United States to implement a system that ensures that every party in a legal proceeding gets a voice. We rest assured that, unlike in other nations, we can not be incarcerated without our day in court, lawyer by our side. What a country we live in: so civilized, so well thought out. God bless America.
But there is a forgotten minority that is not afforded these basic rights. They are not criminals or foreign aliens. In contrast, they are a group we all hold dear - one innocent and well meaning, with no hidden agendas or twisted motives - children.
Instead of actually being represented, children get their "best interests" represented by adults. We children have no choice and no recourse when those adults have their own agendas.
A case in point? Mine.
My parents separated when I was 5-years-old, sparking a custody battle that lasted nine years. I never doubted that I wanted to be with my mother. My father Marshall Krause, is an abuser, and living with him was a mental and physical hell and definitely not in my best interests. Yet, In Marin Family Court, that seemed to be irrelevant. My family court experience consisted of lawyers, judges, evaluators and social workers who turned their backs on their consciences and their professional oaths. They're worked contrary to not only my best interests, but to my health and safety.
My father, a wealthy and well-connected lawyer, used his influence and money to manipulate the system. And he didn't work alone. The court-appointed evaluator, Edward Oklan, M.D., fell under his spell and ignored my reports of my father's abuse of drugs and of me. The lawyer appointed to represent my "best interests," Sandra Acevedo, spent her allotted time with me parroting my father's words, attempting to convince me that I really wanted to live with him. She ignored my reports of abuse. And the therapist my father made me see, Lana Clark, LCSW, was far from objective - she was sleeping with him.
The judge, Sylvia Shapiro-Pritchard, an admitted long-time friend of my father's, rubberstamped any order my father requested. I wrote the judge letters, called her office and did everything I could to make myself heard. She ignored my pleas. I had no rights. I couldn't replace my lawyer with one who would speak for me nor could I speak for myself in court. I couldn't cross examine the court evaluators or therapists and their claims were thus untouchable. I felt like I was witnessing the proceedings from the wrong side of soundproof glass.
My mother tried her best, but she was a David facing Goliath - except in my story, she didn't even have a sling. After years of valiant struggle gaining nothing but legal fees, she had to let go and put her life back together in the hopes that someday I could get out on my own.
While living with my father, I did what I could to survive. I made nine reports to Child Protective Services and several calls to the police over the years, to no avail. They would always tell me that unless I had witnesses or bruises, they couldn't substantiate my claims of abuse. Finally, one day my father threw me into a stone wall at school and a teacher called Child Protective Services.
He's never said as much, but my father panicked. He had worked so hard to build a delicate set of lies and twisted truths to present himself as the well-meaning parent whose "unstable" ex-wife had given his troubled daughter "alienating parent syndrome," resulting in abuse "delusions." The truth was his worst fear.
Acting quickly, he had my therapist, his lover, suddenly decide I was dangerously troubled and needed to be locked up. So I, an 11-year-old straight-A student who had never tried sex, drugs or alcohol, nor ever been in a fight, found myself in an out-of-state lockdown facility with 17-year-old drug-dealing gang-banging street kids. I was beaten up, taunted and was blocked from communicating with the outside world. I was forced into therapy where they tried to brainwash me into believing my mother was insane, that my father's drug use didn't exist and that the abuse my father inflicted on me was all in my head.
When I realized the truth was getting me nowhere, I lied and parroted back their words. It took me 6 months to convince them I was "cured." Holding onto the truth was the hardest thing I have ever done.
After my release, my father, thankfully, shipped me out to a nice boarding school. My two years there were my best years since my mother and I were separated. When I went back to live with him at age 13, I couldn't take it anymore. Knowing I'd never find justice in Marin, I ran away, hoping to find a judicious jurisdiction elsewhere. I ended up in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Juvenile Court took my case and placed me in a safe home. Court investigators and evaluators found my mother to be a fit parent and my father to be dangerous. My father hired an expensive lawyer and tried to play his old tricks, but the judge had none of it. Full custody was awarded to my mother, and visitation with my father was left at my discretion.
In Los Angeles, I was a party in my case, whereas in Marin, I was only leverage in my parent's battle. Los Angeles was heaven.
The practice of trying to ascertain what is in a child's best interest exists because minors supposedly cannot speak for themselves. Yet at 11, I could speak for myself. I had a mind and a set of opinions, but no one seemed to care. The judge denied my right to legal representation, especially when the court-appointed lawyer wouldn't speak my truth. Granted, there is no guarantee that hearing me would have inspired the judge to untwist her motives and unclench her hold on personal allegiances and biases, but who knows? At least it would have been in the court record.
My right as an American is to have legal representation in court proceedings, but when my lawyer wouldn't speak for me, I was allowed no voice.
No American should be locked up without a trial in front of a jury of peers, or some sort of legal equivalent, but it happens to minors all the time. We have an elaborate system to keep innocent adults out of jail, but no system to prevent the false imprisonment of youth in mental hospitals and discipline institutions.
Children are not parties in divorce proceedings - we are property to be divided. Yet children are people too. As citizens, we must be afforded ourhuman and legal rights. And when those adults who are supposed to speakfor us fail, we need some recourse.
Alanna Krause is now in college, doing well.