Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our Regularly Scheduled Programming . . .

Remember me?

I really apologize for leaving you stranded on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You’ve had tea at the Empress Hotel, but you’re still waiting patiently to go see Craigdarroch Castle, and there’s a veritable Eden waiting for you at Butchart’s Gardens. (In fact, you may have seen some of that before reading this, as I really do plan to get all that stuff up right away…!)

In the meantime, I owe you all an explanation. In case you didn’t know, we got home from our awesome Alaska & British Columbia trip and two weeks later flew to England for five days. By the time we got home, it was nearly October, and that meant I was going to be a lawyer nearly full time.

I don’t do a lot of lawyering, overall. But it just happened that all the hearings, trials, reviews and such that got continued from over the summer landed in October. In fact, I counted seven court appearances on the calendar in October, two of them full-bore trials/hearings, complete with witnesses, documents, etc., all of which requires preparation.

And then I met April. (That’s not her real name. It’s actually just the month this year that some nice things happened to her. But, although I haven’t met her in person, it seems like it might fit her.) April lives on the other side of the country; her ex-husband and daughter live here. The ex (I’ll call him Mike, for no particular reason) filed in August to have April’s parental rights terminated. There was a hearing on October 3; I had one week in which to prepare to represent April at this hearing.

I made mistakes on this case, like not looking up the relevant statute right away and the relevant case law, but I suspect I did more work than the court was expecting. In cases like this one, the dad has a lawyer, mom has a lawyer, and the child has a lawyer (called the guardian ad litem). Mike’s argument was basically that April was a drug addict who never called her daughter, and Mike’s new wife wanted to adopt the daughter. Understand, Mike’s lawyer and the guardian ad litem have been on the case since the summer. I had a week (well, because of something the court administrator said, I actually prepped in about three days – another mistake I won’t repeat!) in which to get to know my client, April.

What I learned is that she’s an amazing success story. Yes, she made some huge mistakes in her life (Mike isn’t one of them, and their daughter is quite the opposite of a mistake), but in the past year and a half, she’s really turned things around. She’s an inspiration to anyone who thinks, “I can’t undo this damage. I can’t make it up to the people I’ve hurt.” I’m genuinely proud of her, and I’m honoured to be her attorney.

At the hearing, April was on a speaker phone line with her counsellor and caseworker at the inpatient treatment center (the next day she left, a month early because she had done so well). Mike testified to how badly April had been up to 2005 when he left their hometown with their daughter and moved to Pennsylvania. He testified how little contact April had had with their daughter prior to that move. He testified that his current wife wants to adopt the daughter, and how excited his daughter was about the possibility of adoption.

April testified to how hard she’s worked at parenting classes as well as her recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism. Her caseworker and counsellor testified about how great April was, how she’s owned up to her mistakes, has matured and grown, and how well prepared she is to meet her future. (As well as all the touch-feely stuff you might imagine one does at a treatment facility, April had housing and a job lined up. She had even applied to and gotten admitted to a college program, and was smart enough to get financial aid lined up BEFORE the nation’s credit dried up. Smart woman!)

Okay, so the hearing comes down to the issue of whether April had “failed” in her duties as a mother by not contacting her daughter during the months and years before Mike filed his petition. (Mike had refused to let April’s family – who did know where Mike lived – tell April that information, so she actually didn’t even know what state he and their daughter were in. Unfortunately, that’s not as legally relevant as you might imagine. The courts just figure you should try harder to find your kid.) As things finished up, Mike’s lawyer concluded that April’s [alleged] failure as a parent was sufficient to justify the termination of her parental rights.

I had the clever thought (one that made up for my previous mistakes) to offer to provide the judge with a brief on the applicable case law. Bingo! Of course, what I was talking about was the question of whether April’s voluntary steps to improve as a parent trumped her not calling or writing to her daughter. Come to find out, April should probably have won on the existing Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases because no one presented testimony to show that it would be in their daughter’s best interest to have no further contact with April where the state Supreme Court sees the connection with the non-custodial natural parent as very important. I did argue that her efforts are sufficient to qualify as not being a failure as a parent. I also argued that public policy should prompt this court to deny Mike’s petition because it would be a bad message to send to parents that even the amount of work that April did might not be enough.

Anyway, the point of all this is that this is why no one has heard from me for the past six weeks: England, various court appearances, legal research and brief writing in April’s case, and now I have major court cases tomorrow and next Monday, and the Tuesday after that is the election.

Oh, right – I forgot to say, we’ve been active with the election as well. I’m “county counsel” for the Obama Campaign for Change here, so that’s involved a certain amount of work. We also participated with a local fundraising effort for our congressman, so that has been busy.

And I’ve been named to the board of directors of the Maternal and Family Health Services, which provides women and children with health services in 16 counties here in Northeast Pennsylvania.

And I’m learning the “Two-over-One” bidding convention in bridge.

So, many apologies for not writing sooner. I hope you understand.


  1. Honoured? Counsellor? Magdalen, I do declare that all this time you're spending in the Commonwealth is having a subtle impact on your spelling (unless you have British-English spell-check enabled . . .)

  2. You are so right -- I wrote all that in Word on the English laptop that Starman bought while still living in the UK. And the shame of it is, I didn't even notice. Well-spotted, as Hub 1.0 would say. Now, repeat after me: The trolley in the car park is a tad wobbly...