Children’s Rights – A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Welcome to the Children’s Rights Issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer. Serving as the co-editor of this issue with Barbara Suskind has been a very special experience for me. In our ever changing world children’s rights are constantly evolving. With growing immigration issues, divorce on the rise, LBGTQ rights taking center stage and a foster care system in desperate need of repair, the issues that children face today are greater than I could have ever imagined when I was a child.

As a real estate and business litigation attorney I was not sure where or how to begin putting this issue together. Even though I serve on the board of directors of CASA in Contra Costa Contra County through which I have developed some familiarity with the foster care system and advocating on behalf of minors, serving as the guest editor for this issue was still a daunting task. So I did two things that brought everything into focus. First, I requested assistance from a mediator/attorney with knowledge in the area to co-edit this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine with me, Barbara Suskind (a great move on my part). Then I asked myself a basic question: Exactly what are children’s rights? Then I looked up the definition. Wikipedia defines them as human rights of children that include the right to associate with both parents, human identity, physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of children, equal protection of children’s civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, the rights to care and nurturing and the right to be free from physical, mental and emotional abuse. Children’s Rights law is defined as the point where the law intersects with a child’s life. That’s a lot of territory to cover, so where to begin? There were a dizzying number of topics to write about and while it was difficult to narrow the scope of what we wanted to include in this edition of the magazine, I believe we have touched upon relevant and very interesting topics that we hear about and discuss on a daily basis.

First, Stuart Gilliam writes about every child’s right to a free appropriate education. Next, Judge Terri Mockler and Judge John Sugiyama are interviewed by James Paulsen and discuss Minor’s Counsel protecting children’s rights in family and probate courts. Suzanne Boucher brings up an issue that has affected too many children in our society – the child as a witness in a marital dissolution proceeding. Johanna Kwasniewski advises us about a new law that requires support services for transgender youth in foster care and Erika Portillo writes about an immigrant conundrum, the separation of children from their parents – a subject that is consistently in the news. Finally, I interviewed Ann Wrixon, the Executive Director of CASA and discussed some of the foster care issues that CASA attempts to address in Contra Costa County.

This issue also includes CCCBA President James Wu’s interview with recently-appointed Judge Linda Lye and heartfelt tributes to two legal lions – the Honorable Coleman Fannin, by Justice Mark Simons and Bill O’Malley by the Honorable Rick Flier (Ret). Most people hope to make a small contribution to society during their lifetime. Judge Fannin and Bill O’Malley did that and so much more. Our legal community is a better place due to their dedication, service and the legal legacy that they have left behind through their family and friends.

Barbara and I hope you enjoy this edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine and that you learn something new.