The Juvenile Bench in Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County’s Superior Court conducts all of the Juvenile Dependency Hearings (W&I sec. 300, et seq.) and all of the Juvenile Delinquency Hearings (W&I sec 600, et seq.) for cases arising within our jurisdiction. The court also hears truancy matters for children who are not going to school. In 2017 there will be four Judges assigned to Juvenile. They are, Rebecca Hardie (Supervising Judge), Lois Haight, Barbara Hinton, and Susanne Fenstermacher. Judges Haight, Hardie and Hinton will hear both dependency and delinquency cases in downtown Martinez. Judge Fenstermacher will hear all the delinquency cases at the Juvenile Hall also in Martinez. Due to budget cuts, we can no longer have a judicial officer hearing cases in the Richmond or Pittsburg Courthouses.
Juvenile Dependency cases are confidential in nature and the attorneys are required to undergo specialty training in order to practice the complex area of dependency law. The trials are all bench trials and the goal of these cases is to return the child safely to his/her family. Many times that goal can’t be accomplished and the court seeks the best permanent plan for the child that provides a secure and safe family for life. Adoption by a loving family is the first choice for a permanent plan, followed by guardianship and finally foster care with a family that will provide a permanent connection and support.
The Bureau of Children and Family Services investigates all cases and helps the parents and the child by referrals to services that are designed to reunify the family. The court can also appoint a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to work directly with the child to help him or her deal with the trauma and stress that has been endured by the child. CASA’s are critical to the success of many children. The court encourages responsible adults to volunteer to become a CASA.
Recent legislation has focused on moving dependent children out of group homes and into foster care with a specific family. This will increase the need for foster parents. Also, when a child in foster care reaches the age of 18, they are eligible for three years of support under the AB 12 Program. This program provides housing support, a stipend, counseling and job training, and continuing support from the Social Worker. The young adult only has to be either working 20 hours a week and going to school or attending a program designed to remove barriers to employment. This gives a former foster child a chance to adjust to being an adult.
Juvenile Delinquency cases are usually confidential but any case that involves a serious charge as defined in W&I sec 676 are open to the public with some limited exceptions. Delinquency cases involve allegations in a petition that the minor committed some crime, either misdemeanor or felony. Traffic infractions are handled by the Traffic Commissioners. All juvenile defense attorneys are now required to undergo specialty training in Delinquency Law.
A juvenile is charged by a petition and is subject to bench trials only and if the allegations are found to be true, then the court must examine the best plan to ensure the rehabilitation of the minor. The possible outcomes include returning the minor to the custody of his/her parents with conditions of probation which may include an ankle GPS monitor, removal of the minor from his/her parents and placement in a foster home, the Juvenile Hall, the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility (the Ranch) or in very serious cases, a commitment to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
During these difficult budget times, our Probation Department has been able to keep open our outstanding boys ranch, the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Brentwood. It’s a wonderful program providing school, substance abuse treatment and therapy for the boys. It includes an expanded use of the excellent library facilities and new vocational programs. This is an important resource for rehabilitation and it makes a difference in the lives of our young wards.
Our Youthful Offender Treatment Program for boys (YOTP) and our Girls in Motion Program for girls (GIM) in separate units in Juvenile Hall have continued to provide an important rehabilitative resource. They focus on cognitive behavior and other important tools have given many young wards a second chance to succeed. They do all of these things while protecting the public by keeping these wards in a secure facility.
Under recent legislation, all juveniles who successfully complete probation for any charge except violent charges can have their records sealed and the petition dismissed. This record sealing includes Department of Justice, Office of the Sheriff, Probation Department, Office of the District Attorney, and the arresting police agency. Minor’s counsel present a proposed sealing order to the court that will be signed.