Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Children's Court

By John DiMotto

For the last several months, in preparation for my next assignment this summer -- at the Milwaukee County Children's Court Center-- I have worked on checklists and outlines to assist me in learning this new area of the law. Having an understanding of the law, of course, is critical to being able to administer it. However, seeing the law "in action" gives the law a whole new meaning.

Yesterday, I spent the morning at our Children's Court Center with one of our Court Commissioners - David Sweet - as he handled CHIPS Settlement Conferences. This is a proceeding handled by a court commissioner to see if the case can be resolved short of a contest. The DA, Adversary Counsel for the parent/s, GAL, Social Worker from the Bureau of Child Welfare and a therapist, if one is involved in the case all meet with the CC to go over the details of the case, and the life of the family. Since the goal in most cases is to reunite the family trying to agree on what is best by all involved helps achieve this goal. I found the dynamics fascinating. One of the cases looks on track to resolve without contest. One will, in all likelihood, be an all out war. I do not think that one will bode well for the child. It is difficult to achieve a positive outcome when a person "cannot see the forest for the trees." However, that is why contests are necessary. I can see how juvenile cases can be so frustrating for a court official.

Today, I will be back at the CCC to observe Commissioner Sweet handle the intake and detention hearings in Delinquency cases. I look forward to experiencing the law in the courtroom and to seeing the system's approach to these cases.

I decided to start my "mentoring" with the court commissioners as opposed to with the judges. The commissioners triage the cases for the judges. It is usually the starting point or entry point into the system for these cases and I wanted to see the system from the ground up. You don't build a house by starting with the roof, you start with the basement foundation. It seems to me that in Milwaukee County we have good "construction." I am certain I will enjoy this upcoming rotation.

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