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Big news!! Trump signs executive order strengthening the CHILD welfare system


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Trump acted to strengthen America’s child welfare system by signing a historic Executive Order (EO) aimed at improving outcomes for children and families. This EO focuses on three key areas of action: improving partnerships, improving resources, and improving oversight.

“President Trump’s executive order demonstrates how his administration has prioritized placing each of America’s foster kids with the loving, permanent family they deserve,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. 

“Since the President took office, we have focused on promoting adoption unlike any previous administration, and we’ve begun to see results. The President’s executive order lays out bold reforms for our work with states, communities, and faith-based partners to build a brighter future for American kids who are in foster care or in crisis.”

“Our number one goal is to help our children and youth by making improvements to our child welfare system, and I’m incredibly grateful to President Trump for taking this monumental action today,” said the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson.

“These strong actions support vulnerable children and youth nationwide by advancing measures to reduce child abuse and neglect, encouraging family preservation, and strengthening adoption and other forms of permanency for America’s kids.”

Background

Currently, there are approximately 430,000 children in the foster care system. Of those 430,000 children, there are nearly 124,000 children in foster care who have a plan for adoption, but have not yet achieved the permanency of a forever family. Each year, close to 20,000 youth age out of care without the support of a loving, permanent family. Many of these young men and women will experience higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment after they leave foster care. Through three key reforms to the child welfare system outlined in the Executive Order, this Administration is standing up for vulnerable children and families, pursuing child safety, as well as permanency and child and family well-being.

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), ACF received and distributed $45 million in grants to states, territories, and tribes to support the child welfare needs of families during this crisis, and to help keep families together. In addition, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is anticipated to add $300 million in federal resources in fiscal year 2020 to support children in foster care, as well as children formerly in foster care now living with adoptive parents or legal guardians.

ACF has worked tirelessly in aiding efforts to reduce the number of children entering the foster care system. Through proactive primary prevention efforts and a focus on providing services to keep children safely at home, ACF—with partners at all levels of government and in the not-for-profit sector—has been able to keep more children safely out of foster care. This progress can be seen in the data. The number of children/youth entering care in recent years has declined, with a preliminary estimate of 250,000 children/youth entering care in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. This is a five percent decline from FY 2018, and a nine percent decline from FY 2016.

The Executive Order on Strengthening Foster Care for America’s Children

The EO builds upon that success by offering three key reforms that will strengthen the child welfare system and promote permanency for children in the foster care system nationwide.

The first reform aims at creating robust partnerships between state agencies and public, private, faith-based and community organizations. To accomplish this, the EO empowers HHS to collect and publish localized data that can be used to aid in the development of community-based prevention and family support services and in the recruitment of foster and adoptive families; to hold states accountable for recruiting an adequate number of foster and adoptive families for all children; and to develop guidance for states on best practices for effective partnering with faith-based and community organizations, aimed at improving outcomes for children and families.

The second reform seeks to improve resources provided to caregivers and those in care. To accomplish this, HHS will increase the availability of trauma-informed training, support guardianship through funding and grants, and enhance support for kinship care and for youth exiting foster care by evaluating barriers to federal assistance.

The third reform would improve federal oversight over key statutory child welfare requirements. To accomplish this, the EO requires the Title IV-E Reviews and the Child and Family Services Reviews to strengthen the assessments of these critical requirements and directs HHS to provide guidance to states regarding flexibility in the use of federal funds to support and encourage high-quality legal representation for parents and children.

Deliberate reforms of the child welfare system will bring change to the foster care system to improve the lives of many vulnerable children and families. ACF looks forward to implementing these changes to prevent child maltreatment, keep families together whenever safely possible, and achieve timely permanency for the thousands of children waiting in the system.

Source:

All ACF press releases, fact sheets and other materials are available on the ACF media page. Follow ACF on Twitter Visit disclaimer page for more updates.

Quick Facts

Currently, there are approximately 430,000 children in the foster care system. Of those 430,000 children, there are nearly 124,000 children in foster care who have a plan for adoption, but have not yet achieved the permanency of a forever family.

Each year, close to 20,000 youth age out of care without the support of a loving, permanent family.

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), ACF received and distributed $45 million in grants to states, territories, and tribes to support the child welfare needs of families during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is anticipated to add $300 million in federal resources in fiscal year 2020 to support children in foster care, as well as children formerly in foster care now living with adoptive parents or legal guardians.

The number of children/youth entering care in recent years has declined, with a preliminary estimate of 250,000 children/youth entering care in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. This is a five percent decline from FY 2018, and a nine percent decline from FY 2016.

Quotes

“President Trump’s executive order demonstrates how his administration has prioritized placing each of America’s foster kids with the loving, permanent family they deserve. Since the President took office, we have focused on promoting adoption unlike any previous administration, and we’ve begun to see results. The President’s executive order lays out bold reforms for our work with states, communities, and faith-based partners to build a brighter future for American kids who are in foster care or in crisis.”— Alex Azar, HHS Secretary

“Our number one goal is to help our children and youth by making improvements to our child welfare system, and I’m incredibly grateful to President Trump for taking this monumental action today. These strong actions support vulnerable children and youth nationwide by advancing measures to reduce child abuse and neglect, encouraging family preservation, and strengthening adoption and other forms of permanency for America’s kids.”— Lynn Johnson, ACF Assistant Secretary

Additional Links

cps, news
Appellate record shows Dallas County family law judge has long history of reversals

Thank you David Yates for this piece, click here to view original article.

DALLAS – For nearly a decade, Judge Andrea Plumlee has presided over the 330th Judicial District Court in Dallas County. And in that time, the family court judge has racked up quite a few reversals at the appellate level, with justices frequently finding that she has abused her discretion.

One of Judge Plumlee’s earlier corrections came in 2013 in the matter of the marriage of Jesus and Maria Villa.

Judge Plumlee entered a default judgment against Jesus Villa, even though the court record shows the trial court did not notify him of the default judgment hearing.

The Fifth Court of Appeals found that Judge Plumlee entered the default divorce decree in violation of Jesus Villa’s due process rights.

In the case of In re Young, the Fifth Court found Judge Plumlee abused her discretion by ordering genetic testing, even though the statute of limitations for such testing had expired.

When pieced together, Judge Plumlee’s appellate history shows a pattern of her exceeding her authority, according to an opinion issued by the Fifth Court on March 11, 2019.

The case was titled In the interest of D.T., a child, where Judge Plumlee ordered the father to pay $1,450 in child support. The Fifth Court reversed because the amount did not appear to be based on either the evidence or on the mother’s request.

Some of Judge Plumlee’s rulings seem to be shaped outside the guidelines of the Texas Family Code.

For example, in the case of In re Foreman, the Fifth Court found Judge Plumlee was required to transfer the case out of her court pursuant to the Texas Family Code.

“The undisputed evidence showed that the children’s principal residence on the date the petition was filed and during the six month period preceding the commencement of the suit was Collin County,” states the Fifth Court’s Jan. 9, 2014 opinion. “Under those circumstances, transfer is mandatory…”

Several other instances of Judge Plumlee being reversed on appeal remain on file.

And while the judge has declined to return a request for comment on her past rulings, at least one man had something to say on social media.

On June 22, 2018, Luke Spencer made a Facebook post to the State Bar of Texas page, stating that Judge Plumlee put his wife in jail for protecting her kids.

“Judge Plumlee has made it clear that she is not interested in anything my Wife has to say, and claims that she is a liar as well as the children,” wrote Spencer.

“The judge will not allow the children to speak on their own behalf, and has belittled them. I wanted this information to be known by the State Bar of Texas due to the demonstration of the lack of being fair and impartial…”

Life isn’t always fair, every five year old knows that, but fairness and impartiality is something one should expect from any judge, says Langston Adams, a Texas attorney who practices family, criminal and civil law.

“When I go before a family court judge, I expect what I expect from any judge – for them to be fair and follow the law,” Adams said.

Adams says that in his experience he’s found most family court judges to be fair, despite not every case ending in a win.

“You’re not always going to get the result the client wants … but it’s rare when I see a family law case go up on appeal.

Adams, who has been practicing law since 2002, says he’s only had one appeal in a family law case.

“Most of my appeals have stemmed from criminal cases,” he added.

Since 2011, the year Judge Plumlee first started presiding over the 330th, approximately 108 cases out of her court have been appealed.

arrests, news
Plano podiatrist arrested on possession of child pornography charge | wfaa.com

Click here to view original article.148c6f41-c58e-4a2c-bb8c-0a9cc72bb303_360x203Photo Credit:

CollinC CountyJail Roster

The warrant lays out an investigation that started after an incident at his home this summer. There is no mention of any allegations at his workplace

A Plano podiatrist has been arrested on a charge of possession of child pornography, police records show.

Steven Berkey, 66, was arrested on the felony charge Nov. 4 by Collin County deputies.

Plano police started investigating Berkey after a juvenile reported in June an incident at Berkey’s house.

Officers responded to a report that a juvenile visitor was being secretly recorded inside a bathroom at Berkey’s home, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

While officers interviewed people at the house, they noticed a Nest camera hidden on a bookshelf in a bedroom pointing toward the bathroom where the victim had been. There was tape covering a light on the camera “to make it more inconspicuous,” the warrant says.

Berkey denied knowing the camera was there, records show.

The girl who visited the house told investigators she had seen Berkey looking at pornography on his laptop. She said the images appeared to be of teenage girls, the warrant says.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for devices used by Berkey, including phones, tablets and computers. The affidavit said “evidence of child exploitation material” was found during the search of the devices.

Police records describe three images found in Berkey’s possession, including pornographic photos of children under the age of 12.

A search warrant was also executed at the medical office. Plano police said there is no evidence that any crime occurred at Berkey’s medical offices or that any patients were victims.

An employee at the podiatrist office where Berkey once worked said the business is under new ownership and that Berkey no longer works there.

WFAA has reached out to Berkey for comment but has not been able to contact him.

Jail records show Berkey was released on bond Nov. 5.

foster care, news
California Governor Has Given Children in Foster Care the Right to have internet Access- and More

California’s Governor Newsom signed over 1000 bills this week  including one bill regarding the rights of children in foster care .

Of the many rights afforded to foster children, they shall now include the right to have internet access. He also changed the minimum age that a child can choose to be involved in their permanency planning at the age of 10 now, rather than the age 12.

I have copied a full text here if the bill for readers to take a look themselves at the laws and changes to come for Foster Children’s rights in the State of California.


AB-175 Foster care: rights.(2019-2020)

Published: 10/02/2019 09:00 PM

BILL START

Assembly Bill No. 175
CHAPTER 416

An act to amend Section 1530.91 of the Health and Safety Code, and to amend Section 16164 of, and to repeal and add Section 16001.9 of, the Welfare and Institutions Code, relating to foster care.

[ Approved by Governor  October 02, 2019. Filed with Secretary of State  October 02, 2019. ]

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

AB 175, Gipson. Foster care: rights.
Existing law provides for the out-of-home placement, including foster care placement, of children who are unable to remain in the custody and care of their parents, and imposes various requirements on the county child welfare agency in regard to arranging and overseeing the foster care placement. Existing law provides that it is the policy of the state that all minors and nonminors in foster care have specified rights, including, among others, the right to receive medical, dental, vision, and mental health services, the right to be placed in out-of-home care according to their gender identity, regardless of the gender or sex listed in their court or child welfare records, the right to review their own case plan and plan for permanent placement if the child is 12 years of age or older and in a permanent placement, and the right to attend Independent Living Program classes and activities if the child meets applicable age requirements.
This bill would instead require all children and nonminor dependents in foster care to have these rights and would revise various rights, including providing the right to review their own case plan and plan for permanent placement to children 10 years of age or older regardless of whether they are in a permanent placement and the right to not be prevented from attending Independent Living Program classes by the caregiver as a punishment. The bill would include additional rights, including, among others, the right to be referred to by the child’s preferred name and gender pronoun, the right to maintain the privacy of the child’s sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, except as provided, and the right to have reasonable access to computer technology and the internet. To the extent that the bill would impose additional duties on counties, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
Existing law establishes the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson within the State Department of Social Services and sets forth the duties of the office, including disseminating information on the services provided by the office and rights of children and youth in foster care, developing standardized information explaining those rights, and compiling and making available to the Legislature all data collected by the office, including specified data regarding complaints made to the office and investigations conducted by the office.
This bill would additionally require the office to provide training and technical assistance to foster youth, social workers, and child welfare organizations, among others, on the rights of children and youth in foster care, reasonable and prudent parent standards, and services provided by the office. The bill would require the office to review amendments to laws applicable to foster youth at the end of every two-year legislative session and determine whether updates to the foster care rights should be recommended in the compilation of data prepared by the office and made available to the Legislature.
Existing law, the California Community Care Facilities Act, provides for the licensing and regulation of community care facilities, including foster family homes and group homes, by the State Department of Social Services. Existing law requires certain community care facilities that provide care to foster children to either provide each schooolage child and the child’s authorized representative with an orientation that includes an explanation of the rights of the child or post a listing of the above-described rights.
This bill would require the department to ensure that those facilities accord children and nonminor dependents in foster care with their personal rights, including the above-described rights. The bill would require the department to adopt regulations to implement these provisions, and would authorize the department to implement these provisions by written directives until regulations are adopted.
The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.
This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.
DIGEST KEY
Vote: majority   Appropriation: no   Fiscal Committee: yes   Local Program: yes
BILL TEXT
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Section 1530.91 of the Health and Safety Code is amended to read:
1530.91. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), a care provider that provides foster care for children pursuant to this chapter shall provide each schoolage child and the child’s authorized representative, as defined in regulations adopted by the department, who is placed in foster care, with an age and developmentally appropriate orientation that includes an explanation of the rights of the child, as specified in Section 16001.9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, and addresses the child’s questions and concerns.
(b) Any facility licensed to provide foster care for six or more children pursuant to this chapter shall post a listing of a foster child’s rights specified in Section 16001.9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, as developed by the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson pursuant to Section 16164 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. The Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson shall provide the posters it has designed pursuant to Section 16164 of the Welfare and Institutions Code to each facility subject to this subdivision. The posters shall include the telephone number of the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson.
(c) The department shall ensure that a facility licensed, and a home certified or approved by a foster family agency to provide foster care, pursuant to this chapter shall accord children and nonminor dependents in foster care their personal rights, including, but not limited to, the rights specified in Section 16001.9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, as applicable. The department shall adopt regulations to implement and enforce this subdivision. Notwithstanding the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code), the department may implement and enforce this subdivision by written directives until regulations are adopted.
SEC. 2. Section 16001.9 of the Welfare and Institutions Code is repealed.
SEC. 3. Section 16001.9 is added to the Welfare and Institutions Code, to read:
16001.9. (a) All children placed in foster care, either voluntarily or after being adjudged a ward or dependent of the juvenile court pursuant to Section 300, 601, or 602, shall have the rights specified in this section. These rights also apply to nonminor dependents in foster care, except when they conflict with nonminor dependents’ retention of all their legal decisionmaking authority as an adult. The rights are as follows:
(1) To live in a safe, healthy, and comfortable home where they are treated with respect. If the child is an Indian child, to live in a home that upholds the prevailing social and cultural standards of the child’s Indian community, including, but not limited to, family, social, and political ties.
(2) To be free from physical, sexual, emotional, or other abuse, corporal punishment, and exploitation.
(3) To receive adequate and healthy food, adequate clothing, grooming and hygiene products, and an age-appropriate allowance. Clothing and grooming and hygiene products shall respect the child’s culture, ethnicity, and gender identity and expression.
(4) To be placed in the least restrictive setting possible, regardless of age, physical health, mental health, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression, juvenile court record, or status as a pregnant or parenting youth, unless a court orders otherwise.
(5) To be placed with a relative or nonrelative extended family member if an appropriate and willing individual is available.
(6) To not be locked in any portion of their foster care placement, unless placed in a community treatment facility.
(7) To have a placement that utilizes trauma-informed and evidence-based deescalation and intervention techniques, to have law enforcement intervention requested only when there is an imminent threat to the life or safety of a child or another person or as a last resort after other diversion and deescalation techniques have been utilized, and to not have law enforcement intervention used as a threat or in retaliation against the child.
(8) To not be detained in a juvenile detention facility based on their status as a dependent of the juvenile court or the child welfare services department’s inability to provide a foster care placement. If they are detained, to have all the rights afforded under the United States Constitution, the California Constitution, and all applicable state and federal laws.
(9) To have storage space for private use.
(10) To be free from unreasonable searches of personal belongings.
(11) To be provided the names and contact information for social workers, probation officers, attorneys, service providers, foster youth advocates and supporters, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), and education rights holder if other than the parent or parents, and when applicable, representatives designated by the child’s Indian tribe to participate in the juvenile court proceeding, and to communicate with these individuals privately.
(12) To visit and contact siblings, family members, and relatives privately, unless prohibited by court order, and to ask the court for visitation with the child’s siblings.
(13) To make, send, and receive confidential telephone calls and other electronic communications, and to send and receive unopened mail, unless prohibited by court order.
(14) To have social contacts with people outside of the foster care system, including, but not limited to, teachers, coaches, religious or spiritual community members, mentors, and friends. If the child is an Indian child, to have the right to have contact with tribal members and members of their Indian community consistent with the prevailing social and cultural conditions and way of life of the Indian child’s tribe.
(15) To attend religious services, activities, and ceremonies of the child’s choice, including, but not limited to, engaging in traditional Native American religious practices.
(16) To participate in extracurricular, cultural, racial, ethnic, personal enrichment, and social activities, including, but not limited to, access to computer technology and the internet, consistent with the child’s age, maturity, developmental level, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
(17) To have fair and equal access to all available services, placement, care, treatment, and benefits, and to not be subjected to discrimination or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived race, ethnic group identification, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental or physical disability, or HIV status.
(18) To have caregivers, child welfare and probation personnel, and legal counsel who have received instruction on cultural competency and sensitivity relating to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and best practices for providing adequate care to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children in out-of-home care.
(19) To be placed in out-of-home care according to their gender identity, regardless of the gender or sex listed in their court, child welfare, medical, or vital records, to be referred to by the child’s preferred name and gender pronoun, and to maintain privacy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, unless the child permits the information to be disclosed, or disclosure is required to protect their health and safety, or disclosure is compelled by law or a court order.
(20) To have child welfare and probation personnel and legal counsel who have received instruction on the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (25 U.S.C. Sec. 1901 et seq.) and on cultural competency and sensitivity relating to, and best practices for, providing adequate care to Indian children in out-of-home care.
(21) To have recognition of the child’s political affiliation with an Indian tribe or Alaskan village, including a determination of the child’s membership or citizenship in an Indian tribe or Alaskan village; to receive assistance in becoming a member of an Indian tribe or Alaskan village in which the child is eligible for membership or citizenship; to receive all benefits and privileges that flow from membership or citizenship in an Indian tribe or Alaskan village; and to be free from discrimination based on the child’s political affiliation with an Indian tribe or Alaskan village.
(22) (A) To access and receive medical, dental, vision, mental health, and substance use disorder services, and reproductive and sexual health care, with reasonable promptness that meets the needs of the child, to have diagnoses and services explained in an understandable manner, and to participate in decisions regarding health care treatment and services. This right includes covered gender affirming health care and gender affirming mental health care, and is subject to existing laws governing consent to health care for minors and nonminors and does not limit, add, or otherwise affect applicable laws governing consent to health care.
(B) To view and receive a copy of their medical records to the extent they have the right to consent to the treatment provided in the medical record and at no cost to the child until they are 26 years of age.
(23) Except in an emergency, to be free of the administration of medication or chemical substances, and to be free of all psychotropic medications unless prescribed by a physician, and in the case of children, authorized by a judge, without consequences or retaliation. The child has the right to consult with and be represented by counsel in opposing a request for the administration of psychotropic medication and to provide input to the court about the request to authorize medication. The child also has the right to report to the court the positive and adverse effects of the medication and to request that the court reconsider, revoke, or modify the authorization at any time.
(24) (A) To have access to age-appropriate, medically accurate information about reproductive health care, the prevention of unplanned pregnancy, and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
(B) At any age, to consent to or decline services regarding contraception, pregnancy care, and perinatal care, including, but not limited to, abortion services and health care services for sexual assault without the knowledge or consent of any adult.
(C) At 12 years of age or older, to consent to or decline health care services to prevent, test for, or treat sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and mental health services, without the consent or knowledge of any adult.
(25) At 12 years of age or older, to choose, whenever feasible and in accordance with applicable law, their own health care provider for medical, dental, vision, mental health, substance use disorder services, and sexual and reproductive health care, if payment for the service is authorized under applicable federal Medicaid law or other approved insurance, and to communicate with that health care provider regarding any treatment concerns or needs and to request a second opinion before being required to undergo invasive medical, dental, or psychiatric treatment.
(26) To confidentiality of medical and mental health records, including, but not limited to, HIV status, substance use disorder history and treatment, and sexual and reproductive health care, consistent with existing law.
(27) To attend school, to remain in the child’s school of origin, to immediate enrollment upon a change of school, to partial credits for any coursework completed, and to priority enrollment in preschool, afterschool programs, a California State University, and each community college district, and to receive all other necessary educational supports and benefits, as described in the Education Code.
(28) To have access to existing information regarding the educational options available, including, but not limited to, the coursework necessary for career, technical, and postsecondary educational programs, and information regarding financial aid for postsecondary education, and specialized programs for current and former foster children available at the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges.
(29) To attend Independent Living Program classes and activities, if the child meets the age requirements, and to not be prevented by caregivers from attending as a consequence or punishment.
(30) To maintain a bank account and manage personal income, consistent with the child’s age and developmental level, unless prohibited by the case plan.
(31) To work and develop job skills at an age-appropriate level, consistent with state law.
(32) For children 14 to 17 years of age, inclusive, to receive a consumer credit report provided to the child by the social worker or probation officer on an annual basis from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and to receive assistance with interpreting and resolving any inaccuracies.
(33) To be represented by an attorney in juvenile court; to have an attorney appointed to advise the court of the child’s wishes, to advocate for the child’s protection, safety, and well-being, and to investigate and report to the court on legal interests beyond the scope of the juvenile proceeding; to speak to the attorney confidentially; and to request a hearing if the child feels their appointed counsel is not acting in their best interest or adequately representing their legal interests.
(34) To receive a notice of court hearings, to attend court hearings, to speak to the judge, to view and receive a copy of the court file, subject to existing federal and state confidentiality laws, and to object to or request the presence of interested persons during court hearings. If the child is an Indian child, to have a representative designated by the child’s Indian tribe be in attendance during hearings.
(35) To the confidentiality of all juvenile court records consistent with existing law.
(36) To view and receive a copy of their child welfare records, juvenile court records, and educational records at no cost to the child until the child is 26 years of age, subject to existing federal and state confidentiality laws.
(37) To be involved in the development of their own case plan, including placement decisions, and plan for permanency. This involvement includes, but is not limited to, the development of case plan elements related to placement and gender affirming health care, with consideration of the child’s gender identity. If the child is an Indian child, the case plan shall include protecting the essential tribal relations and best interests of the Indian child by assisting the child in establishing, developing, and maintaining political, cultural, and social relationships with the child’s Indian tribe and Indian community.
(38) To review the child’s own case plan and plan for permanent placement if the child is 10 years of age or older, and to receive information about their out-of-home placement and case plan, including being told of changes to the plan.
(39) To request and participate in a child and family team meeting, as follows:
(A) Within 60 days of entering foster care, and every 6 months thereafter.
(B) If placed in a short-term residential therapeutic program, or receiving intensive home-based services or intensive case coordination, or receiving therapeutic foster care services, to have a child and family team meeting at least every 90 days.
(C) To request additional child and family team meetings to address concerns, including, but not limited to, placement disruption, change in service needs, addressing barriers to sibling or family visits, and addressing difficulties in coordinating services.
(D) To have both informal and formal support people participate, consistent with state law.
(40) To be informed of these rights in an age and developmentally appropriate manner by the social worker or probation officer and to be provided a copy of the rights in this section at the time of placement, any placement change, and at least once every six months or at the time of a regularly scheduled contact with the social worker or probation officer.
(41) To be provided with contact information for the Community Care Licensing Division of the State Department of Social Services, the tribal authority approving a tribally approved home, and the State Foster Care Ombudsperson, at the time of each placement, and to contact any or all of these offices immediately upon request regarding violations of rights, to speak to representatives of these offices confidentially, and to be free from threats or punishment for making complaints.
(b) The rights described in this section are broad expressions of the rights of children in foster care and are not exhaustive of all rights set forth in the United States Constitution and the California Constitution, federal and California statutes, and case law.
(c) This section does not require, and shall not be interpreted to require, a foster care provider to take any action that would impair the health and safety of children in out-of-home placement.
(d) The State Department of Social Services and each county welfare department are encouraged to work with the Student Aid Commission, the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges to receive information pursuant to paragraph (28) of subdivision (a).
SEC. 4. Section 16164 of the Welfare and Institutions Code is amended to read:
16164. (a) The Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson shall do all of the following:
(1) (A) Disseminate information and provide training and technical assistance to foster youth, social workers, probation officers, tribes’ child welfare agencies, child welfare organizations, children’s advocacy groups, consumer and service provider organizations, and other interested parties on the rights of children and youth in foster care, reasonable and prudent parent standards, and the services provided by the office. The rights of children and youth in foster care are listed in Section 16001.9. The information shall include methods of contacting the office and notification that conversations with the office may be disclosed to other persons, as necessary to adequately investigate and resolve a complaint.
(B) At the end of every two-year legislative session, review amendments to the laws applicable to foster youth and determine whether updates to the rights listed in Section 16001.9 should be recommended in the compilation prepared pursuant to paragraph (8). The office shall update the standardized information prepared pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (e), and any training materials prepared pursuant to subparagraph (A), in accordance with the legislative review.
(2) Investigate and attempt to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of children placed in foster care, related to their care, placement, or services.
(3) Decide, in its discretion, whether to investigate a complaint, or refer complaints to another agency for investigation.
(4) Upon rendering a decision to investigate a complaint from a complainant, notify the complainant of the intention to investigate. If the office declines to investigate a complaint or continue an investigation, the office shall notify the complainant of the reason for the action of the office.
(5) Update the complainant on the progress of the investigation and notify the complainant of the final outcome.
(6) Document the number, source, origin, location, and nature of complaints.
(7) Receive data from the State Department of Education regarding complaints about foster youth education rights made through the uniform complaint process.
(8) (A) Compile and make available to the Legislature all data collected over the course of the year, including, but not limited to, the number of contacts to the office, the number of complaints made, including the type and source of those complaints, the number of investigations performed by the office, the trends and issues that arose in the course of investigating complaints, the number of referrals made, the number of pending complaints, and a summary of the data received from the State Department of Education pursuant to paragraph (7). The office shall include recommendations consistent with this data for improving the child welfare system.
(B) Present this compiled data, on an annual basis, at appropriate child welfare conferences, forums, and other events, as determined by the department, that may include presentations to, but are not limited to, representatives of the Legislature, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, Chief Probation Officers of California, Indian tribes, child welfare agencies, child welfare organizations, children’s advocacy groups, consumer and service provider organizations, and other interested parties.
(C) It is the intent of the Legislature that representatives of the organizations described in subparagraph (B) consider this data in the development of any recommendations offered toward improving the child welfare system.
(D) The compiled data shall be posted so that it is available to the public on the existing internet website of the office.
(E) Nothing shall preclude the office from issuing data, findings, or reports other than the annual compilation of data described in this paragraph.
(9) Have access to copies of any record of a state or local agency, and contractors with state and local agencies, that is necessary to carry out their responsibilities, and may meet or communicate with any foster child in their placement or elsewhere.
(b) The office may establish, in consultation with a committee of interested individuals, regional or local foster care ombudsperson offices for the purposes of expediting investigations and resolving complaints, subject to appropriations in the annual Budget Act.
(c) Information obtained by the office from a complaint, regardless of whether it is investigated by the office, referred to another entity for investigation, or determined not to be the proper subject of an investigation, shall remain confidential under relevant state and federal confidentiality laws. Disclosure of information shall occur only as necessary to carry out the mission of the office and as permitted by law.
(d) The office shall provide administrative and technical assistance to county, regional, or local foster care ombudsperson’s offices, including, but not limited to, assistance in developing policies and procedures consistent with the policies and procedures used by the office.
(e) (1) The office, in consultation with the County Welfare Directors Association of California, Chief Probation Officers of California, Indian tribes located in the state, foster youth advocate and support groups, groups representing children, families, foster parents, children’s facilities, and other interested parties, shall develop standardized information explaining the rights specified in Section 16001.9. The information shall be developed in an age-appropriate manner, and shall reflect any relevant licensing requirements with respect to foster care providers’ responsibilities to adequately supervise children in care.
(2) The office, counties, foster care providers, and others shall use the information developed in paragraph (1) in carrying out their responsibilities to inform foster children and youth of their rights pursuant to Section 1530.91 of the Health and Safety Code, Sections 27 and 16501.1, and this section.
(3) The office shall measure the distribution of the standardized materials for purposes of evaluating and improving the degree to which foster youth are adequately informed of their rights. This data shall be included in the compilation prepared pursuant to paragraph (8) of subdivision (a).
SEC. 5. To the extent that this act has an overall effect of increasing the costs already borne by a local agency for programs or levels of service mandated by the 2011 Realignment Legislation within the meaning of Section 36 of Article XIII of the California Constitution, it shall apply to local agencies only to the extent that the state provides annual funding for the cost increase. Any new program or higher level of service provided by a local agency pursuant to this act above the level for which funding has been provided shall not require a subvention of funds by the state or otherwise be subject to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.

General, murder, news
CPS placed 18 month old child in his aunt’s care – now he’s dead

Two separate investigations will review Child Protective Services’ handling of a Dallas toddler’s case after the child was found dead Thursday in a landfill, a day after his aunt and caregiver reported him missing.

Police believe they found 18-month-old Cedrick Jackson’s remains Thursday morning in a landfill on the Garland-Rowlett line. The Dallas County medical examiner had yet to positively identify the remains or determine a cause of death as of Friday.

Authorities charged Sedrick Johnson, the 27-year-old boyfriend of the child’s aunt, with injury to a child causing serious bodily injury.

Johnson faces additional charges pending the medical examiner’s findings. The toddler had been living in a Lake Highlands apartment with Johnson and his aunt, Crystal Jackson, after CPS placed him in her care.

Johnson told police he had swaddled Cedrick in blankets — something he had been doing since May after the child “made a mess” with ketchup packets, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Johnson told police he unwrapped Cedrick after he heard the child making noises in his sleep. He said the toddler then vomited and became unresponsive. Johnson told police he left the child’s body in a dumpster in northeast Dallas after his CPR attempts failed.

Internal and independent reviews will likely examine why Cedrick was placed in the home of Johnson, who has a criminal history in Dallas County.

The child’s mother, Dishundra Thomas, had allowed Cedrick to stay with Jackson. The arrangement by CPS was not against her will, Thomas said.

However, CPS would not knowingly place a child in a home with an adult who has a criminal history, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Johnson was charged with child abandonment in 2010 after police said he left his infant daughter alone in an apartment while he propositioned an undercover officer who he believed was a prostitute, according to court records.

He pleaded guilty in 2011 and was sentenced to four years of probation. Johnson later violated that probation and was sentenced to eight months in state jail in 2016.

Under normal circumstances, CPS officials conduct a criminal background check on each adult in a home being considered for child placement, Gonzales said. She didn’t provide details on Cedrick’s case Friday, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.

The Department of Family and Protective Service’s Office of Child Safety will conduct an independent review of CPS’ handling of Cedrick’s case, Gonzales said. It’s not clear when either investigation will complete.

The Office of Child Safety will issue a report detailing its findings when the investigation is complete, but Gonzales said the office would need the approval of the Dallas County district attorney’s office and law enforcement before releasing the report publicly.

Johnson was still in the Dallas County jail as of Friday evening, with bail set at $503,000.

Vigil in boy’s honor

Friday evening, mourners gathered under a pavilion at Lake Highlands Recreation Center for a community vigil in Cedrick’s memory, where Dishundra Thomas, the boy’s mother, briefly addressed the crowd of about 100 before breaking down, inconsolable. Another read a prepared statement that was barely comprehensible through her tears.

“Baby C.J. was the sweetest little baby in the world,” his mother said. “He meant everything to us. He didn’t deserve anything that happened to him.”

Eventually family members had to escort her away, as she sobbed and screamed, “I want him back!”

The gathering included several families with small children, carrying blue and white balloons, one in the shape of a giant C. Some wore blue T-shirts with an image of Cedrick’s face and the words, “Rest in Heaven.” One woman carried a handmade poster reading “Our Beloved CJ” with photos of the boy.

Linus Walton of Wylie, an acquaintance of the boy’s uncle, spoke as well, saying “He brought people, as we see right now, together. C.J. was loved. His life was not in vain.”

Finally, as the sun began to set, the crowd moved to an open grassy area, where Cedrick’s grand-aunt, Benita Arterberry of Mesquite, said the gesture was symbolic of a soul being commended to God.

“Father, we know that into each life a little rain must fall, and today is a storm,” she said, as the crowd sent their balloons skyward. “We are so grateful to have had him for the time that we did.”

drug abuse, families, family, financial, funding, General, government, home, money, news
This is why Trump’s recommendation to replace SNAP FOOD STAMPS with food boxes is a bad idea… and its not really about the food or the money.

And when it was my turn, there was nobody left to speak up for me…

I know this isn’t normally in line with my blog topic of Foster Care but it does relate to the interest of families all across our country.

So, please take a moment and help me get this message out.

I am going to tell you why i believe President Trumps’ idea to replace SNAP food stamps with boxes of food is a REALLY BAD IDEA.

But before i do, i have drafted a petition to President Trump on this issue that i am asking you to sign. I need 100,000 signatures in 30 days for it to reach the white house.

So even if you do not agree with me to sign the petition, please at least share my post, or the link to the petition, so it gets passed around. someone else might feel as strongly as I do on the topic and might want to include their signature. Thank you.

I’ve created this petition asking President Trump not to replace food stamps with boxes of food.

I must reach a goal of 100,000 signatures so that my petition makes it to the white house.

Even if you don’t agree with the current program of SNAP FOOD BENEFITS, that’s okay. This is about much more than that. If you value your FREEDOMS AS AMERICAN CITIZENS, please take a moment.

SNAP food stamps are NOT just for people who do not work. In fact, most employees of Walmart are on food stamps…(and incidentally spend them at Walmart…hrmmm).

For many families it is the difference between going HUNGRY OR having the ability to cook a real, heathy meal with meat and vegetables.

I’M NOT DEBATING WHETHER OR NOT SNAP IS necessary, or for who, or how much or for how long.

I do not even receive SNAP benefits, by the way .

I want to discuss the IMPLICATIONS of what The POTUS has proposed.

Trump wants to replace food stamps with boxes of government food.

THINK ABOUT THAT.

The government issued boxes of food Trump Is proposing for the future….

the bread lines of the past.

Once a month, poor families well be given their share of whatever food the GOVERNMENT THINKS they should get to eat.

Bread lines.

Is this how things should be done in a “free” country? or is this ONE STEP CLOSER to repeating history?

This is AMERICA, LAND OF THE FREE, which includes the freedom to choose what we eat, when we eat, and how much.

AMERICA is NOT A COMMUNIST COUNTRY … government issued food boxes is one more freedom removed targeting the poor.

THAT’S A BIG DEAL.

There are too many ways the government can save money and make reforms to programs including SNAP food benefits

Please sign and pass along my petition at this site.

I need 100,000 signatures.

Thank you.

THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.

HITLER WAS ELECTED. REMEMBER?


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child sex crimes, cps, fbi wanted, internet sex, kids, news, safety, sexual predators, video
FBI searching for unidentified child porn suspect

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Child abuse and porn suspect known as “Jimmy” is wanted by the FBI.

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The FBI is looking for a man portrayed in videos being distributed in forums on the internet. The unknown suspect was shown engaging in sexually explicit activities with a child and officials are looking for any help in finding him. The videos were found in April in online child pornography forums.

Some of the images show a ring on the man’s right ring finger as well as a distinct plaid chair. The man has male patterned baldness, and dark hair.

1kOKrx.AuSt.77

Based on the audio, the suspect may refer to himself as “Jimmy.” The man speaks with a southern accent but the videos provide no clue to his location.

Anyone with information on this suspect or this case is urged to contact the FBI.

To give a tip, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

accountability, arrest, kidnapping, kids, law, legal, news
East Texas Jury Deliberates on Kidnapping of Boy Hidden for 8 Years

Krystie Tanner

SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas (AP) — An East Texas jury sentenced two women to prison Tuesday after convicting them of kidnapping a Houston boy when he was 8 months old and hiding him for eight years before he was found.

Gloria Walker was sentenced to 30 years for injury to a child and eight years for kidnapping, to be served concurrently. Her daughter, Krystle Tanner, was sentenced to eight years for kidnapping and eight years for the lesser charge of reckless injury to a child, also to be served concurrently.

Earlier in the day the same jury convicted them in the 2004 disappearance of Miguel Morin, who is now 8. Walker had faced up to life in prison, and Tanner faced 20 years.

“We believe that justice was done on behalf of Miguel,” said San Augustine County District Attorney Kevin Dutton.

After the sentences were announced, both women told state District Judge Charles Mitchell they had done nothing wrong, insisting Miguel’s mother had given him away.

“Justice is not served. We have not hurt no child. We loved and cared for him,” Walker said before she and her daughter were handcuffed and taken away by authorities.

Jurors and attorneys for Tanner, 27, and Walker, 51, declined to comment afterward.

Prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments earlier Tuesday that Tanner and Walker neglected Miguel during the eight years they hid him from authorities, denying him appropriate medical care and keeping him out of school.

But defense attorneys countered there was no abduction because the boy’s mother sold him to the women and his parents never showed any concern for their son and refused to cooperate with authorities.

The trial was in San Augustine, about 140 miles northeast of Houston, where authorities say Miguel lived part of the time during his kidnapping.

During the trial’s punishment phase, both Walker and Tanner testified, asking jurors to sentence them to probation.

“I didn’t do nothing wrong,” said a tearful Walker. She also told jurors she had very little contact with the boy, saying she was focused more on dealing with various health problems.

But Tanner contradicted her mother, telling jurors Miguel lived with Walker for extended periods of time. Tanner said she never hurt or abused Miguel.

“I didn’t know they were looking for him. I didn’t know he was missing,” she said.

Prosecutors did not present any witnesses during the punishment phase but did ask jurors for a 25-year-sentence for Walker and an eight-year term for Tanner.

Authorities said Tanner, who used to babysit Miguel, took the boy from his Houston apartment complex when he was an infant and that she and her mother kept him hidden in homes in Central and East Texas, renaming him Jaquan.

Dutton said in his closing argument that claims by Tanner and Walker that Miguel was given to them by his mother are not supported by their actions.

“If Ms. Walker and Ms. Tanner had a right to little Miguel, why wasn’t he in school?” he said. “Why didn’t you get the rest of his immunizations? Why didn’t you take him to the dentist? They knew they didn’t have that right. They knew they couldn’t put that baby out in the public eye.”

Miguel remained missing until March 2012, when Tanner and Walker were arrested. Authorities began investigating Tanner in 2010 after her newborn son tested positive for marijuana. Investigators later determined that she had the missing boy.

San Augustine County Attorney Wesley Hoyt, the other prosecutor in the case, told jurors Miguel stayed missing for years in part because of a flawed investigation by Houston police, which closed the case in 2006.

But Rudy Velasquez, Walker’s attorney, told jurors Miguel’s parents, Auboni Champion-Morin and Fernando Morin, didn’t cooperate with Houston police after the boy was reported missing and never really showed any concern for their son.

A Houston police investigator testified during the four-day trial last week she thought this was not a kidnapping case but one about interference with child custody because she believed the boy’s parents and Tanner had an agreement related to his custody.

“This is not a kidnapping. What has happened is you have a young lady who gave her child away,” Velasquez said. “Ms. Morin was willing to sell her child for $200.”

The boy’s parents were not in the courtroom on Tuesday. But Champion-Morin, had testified her son was taken by Tanner and that Houston police did not keep in touch with her about the case.

Donovan Dudinsky, Tanner’s attorney, told jurors to consider that Miguel is currently not living with his parents but is instead in the custody of a Houston-area couple in deciding whether to believe the parents’ claims that their son was taken.

A Houston judge last month placed Miguel with Junita and Joseph Auguillard, who have also been taking care of Miguel’s four siblings for nearly 10 years under an agreement they have with the boy’s parents.

Miguel has been told about the true identity of his parents and his siblings, and he has been having weekly joint therapy sessions with his parents.

“I hope years later (Miguel) looks back on this day and understands there were good people looking out for him,” San Augustine County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham said after the sentences were handed down.

___

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

accountability, Collin County, Texas, corruption, government, judicial system, legal, news, system failure
District Clerk’s Case Set for Trial
Source: Collin County Observer

The pretrial hearing in the Collin County District Clerk’s case held on November 8, 2011 revolved around motions filed by former District Clerk Hannah Kunkle’s attorney John Charles Hardin. Watching Mr. Hardin in action, it appears he is nothing if not flamboyant, perhaps a cross between Richard “Racehorse” Haynes and Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.

The hearing was held in the suffocatingly small Auxiliary Courtroom #3 and with so many grandmothers in attendance; it looked more like a gathering of the Collin County Garden Club.

All of Mr. Hardin’s minor motions were granted, but only after objections made by attorney pro tem John Helms resulted in the rewriting of many of them. However, a motion for continuance was denied, as was Hardin’s request to have former District Clerk Hannah Kunkle’s trial severed from her co-defendants.

A major dispute erupted between Mr. Hardin and Mr. Helms concerning when discovery would be made available to Mr. Hardin for use in preparing Hannah Kunkle’s defense. The dispute became so heated that Judge Nelms had to quiet the two. Mr. Hardin demanded a specific time and place for all discovery and a list of the state’s expert witnesses to be provided to him. It was finally decided the exchange would take place November the 15th at 10 AM at the courthouse. Judge Nelms left it for Hardin and Helms to decide exactly where in the courthouse the exchange would take place.

Next up was Sherry Bell’s attorney Mr. Yoon Kim. Based on the decisions made on Kunkle’s motions, many of Mr. Kim’s motions were withdrawn or were granted without objection by Mr. Helms. Helms objected to Kim’s motion requiring disclosure of all information concerning the informers who brought the allegations against the four district clerks. Judge Nelms granted this motion.

Derek King Walpole representing Rebecca Littrell asked to adopt all orders to Littrell’s case. Judge Nelms granted this motion.

Judge Nelms next considered motions filed by District Clerk Patricia Crigger’s attorney Robert Hinton. Judge Nelms stated, “I ruled on all of Kunkle’s motions and therefore I have ruled on yours,” to which Mr. Hinton said, “yes sir.”

Next Judge Nelms busied himself with judicial housekeeping. In discussing voir dire Judge Nelms stated there would be 56 peremptory challenges. 28 for the state and 7 for each of the defendants. Mr. Walpole suggested they might need to call 250 members of the jury pool. Judge Nelms felt 150 would be sufficient and expressed concern that the selection of a jury should take no more than one day because of voir dire cost the county $6000 a day.

The affable Judge Nelms closed the hearing stating, “Thanks for being here, I’ll see you on the 28th.”

John

Comments, Pingbacks:

Comment from: COLLIN COUNTY ATTORNEY [Visitor] Email
Was John Hardin wearing his deer skin vest? He has always tried to channel Gerry Spence. The attorneys are so used to it, we don’t even notice anymore!
PermalinkPermalink 11/10/11 @ 16:04

The District Clerks trial: Day 1

November 28th, 2011

The Case
In September, 2009 Hannah Kunkle, the long-time District Clerk announced she would retire and endorsed Patricia Crigger running for the job.

Patricia won the race after a run-off, but a few months later, the Texas Rangers raided the District Clerks office at the Collin County Court House.

The Texas Rangers seized computer hard drives, removable storage drives, calendars, binders, and 2 employee Access Cards. Ranger Davidson interviewed and took testimony from 5 District Clerk employees who charged that they were either pressured into working for the Crigger campaign or told they would be rewarded with “Blue Book” time for any PTO (paid personal time off) taken to campaign.

“Blue Book” time was paid time off that was not authorized by county policies, but instead kept by the supervisors on Excel spreadsheets, and later in binders. One informer told Davidson that the “Blue Books” began in the early 1990’s after Hannah Kunkle was elected as District Clerk. When “Blue Book” time was taken by an employee, their supervisor would falsify county records to show that the employee was at work. Employees were reminded to leave their “Access Cards” with their supervisors when taking “Blue Book” time off, so that the supervisor could clock them in as ‘present’.

Davidson charges that at least 29 employees (out of 63 in the District Clerk’s Office) received “Blue Book” time off during the Crigger Campaign. In the 24 page Affidavit, Davidson lists several examples of employees being reported as present, but not having logged into their computers and of having ‘out-of-office’ messages on their phones. The DA’s documents show over 220 work days in free day, with county money, were given to employees for working on the Crigger campaign.

After she was indicted, she was sworn in as the new elected District Clerk.

The cast:

Judge:

  • Judge John Nelms, a retired judge from Dallas County

For the State:

  • John Helms,Jr., prosecutor pro tem an attorney in Dallas
  • Rebecca Gregory, 2nd prosecutor pro tem the former US Attorney of the Northern District of Texas

Hannah Kunkle, the former elected District Clerk. John Hardin is her attorney.For the Defense:

  • Patricia Crigger, the current elected District Clerk.Robert Hinton is her attorney.
  • Rebecca Littrell, the Chief Deputy District Clerk. Derek King Walpole is her attorney.
  • Sherry Bell, a Deputy District Clerk. Yoon Kim is her attorney.

The Charges

  • Kunkle, Crigger, and Littrell are charged with Abuse of Official Capacity, for more than $20,000 and less than $100,000. The charge is a 3rd degree felony, punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary from 2 years to 10 years plus a $10,000 fine.
  • Kunkle, Crigger, Littrell and Bell are charged with Conspiracy of Abuse of Official Capacity, for more than $20,000 and less than $100,000. The charge is a ‘state jail felony’, punishable by imprisonment in a State Jail from 6 months to 2 years plus a $10,000 fine.

The Trial – Day One:

Most of today’s morning was spent corralling the 200 prospective jurors, organizing the court room and then listening to a couple of motion arguments.

I was surprised when I saw the defendants. At first I didn’t recognize Hannah Kunkle. She looks some how smaller and older. Her hair was simple and completely grey. Kunkle was wearing a dress looking an older, conservative, dignified lady. The other three ladies’ appearance looked in total contrast to Ms. Kunkle. Normally a defendant wants to give a jury’s a good their first impression.

Patricia Crigger appeared to be very worn and distracted. She looked disheveled looking like she came in from a storm. Rebecca Littrell came to court in a dressy, casual pants suit. The most shocking was Sherry Bell. She appeared in court in slacks and a home decorated applique sweatshirt. She looked like a bag lady coming to court looking for a free lawyer.

The judge and bailiff spent the large part of organizing moving the trial from a court room to the Central Grand Jury Room. That room was the only one capable of seating over 200 people.

After the court settled down, John Hardin made two motions to continue the case, and to sever Kunkle’s charges from the trial. The judge had ruled the same questions before, and again the judge denied the motions.

After lunch, voir dire began. The judge warned the panel that these trials may go on to December 15. Nelms promised them that the trial will not go into Christmas.

I do need to thank Judge Nelms and the prosecutor. He asked the panel did anyone know Bill Baumbach…. and then Helm’s later asked them twice if anyone reads the Collin County Observer. While no one said they knew me or read the CCO, I think the court I owe the court for the free advertising of the Collin County Observer. The jury panel was a captive audience and he had their complete attention. That kind of advertising is priceless.

The voir dire will continue late tomorrow.

The District Clerks trial: Day 2

November 30th, 2011

The second day of the trial was entirely spent in choosing a jury

Judge John Nelms

Voir dire took all morning.

After lunch, the judge told the 200 folks on the jury panel, that if they want to ask for an excuse for serving on the jury, he and the counsel would meet with each of them individually, and the judge and attorneys would vote if they could be excused.

59 people lined up to talk to the judge.

That took most all afternoon – from my perspective the procedure had as much drama as watching paint dry.

After the excuses, there were 147 members left in the panel. Each defendant had 7 strikes against a potential juror, and the State had 28 strikes. The whole process was finished a little after 6 PM.

The judge sworn in 10 men and 2 women as the jury. (I wonder if a male jury is less forgiving to female defendants, then a jury made up of mostly female jurors. I don’t know.)

The trial will begin again at 9:30 AM at the Ceremonial Courtroom. First up will be the State’s opening arguments.

 

The District Clerk’s Trial – Day 3

December 1st, 2011

The District Clerk’s Trial – Day 3
By: Lex In Limine (LIL)
Attorney at Law
Guest Contributor

After some preliminary matters, the parties presented their Opening Arguments.

John M. Helms, Jr.

The Prosecution, lead by John Helms, Jr. , prosecutor pro tem, began. With a clear voice and methodical manner, he told the jury of four women and six men that this was a case that involved the abuse of taxpayer dollars and the interference with free and fair elections. Of the 63 employees at the District Clerk’s office, all but one are female. He referred to the office as a “Good Ole’ Girl Network.”

The Defendants, Hannah Kunkle, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Litrell, and Sherry Bell were the four highest “ranking” employees of the office at the time of the alleged offense. The Clerk’s office set up a rewards and benefits system for the employees and this system was kept “secret” from the Collin County Commissioners’ Court. Helms was quick to emphasize that the Defendants were not being prosecuted for the “secret” reward and benefit system.Helms stated that the crime alleged to be committed by the Defendants is the misuse of labor to promote the campaign of Patricia Crigger. The reward system was “off book” paid leave time that was referred to as “Blue Book” time. Again, Helms repeated that there is no crime in having the secret Blue Book time, but, instead, the use of said time for campaign work is what offends.

Helms produced a poster with snap shots of the Defendants and explained their respective job titles. He described the defendants as “joined at the hip” and a close knit group. The proximity of their respective work spaces added to their camaraderie. Helms said the evidence will show that the absences of the workforce when using “Blue Book” time adversely affected the efficiency of the office.

Helms then described the “anxiousness” felt by the many employees when they learned of Kunkle’s retirement. Kunkle had been in office for many years and they were concerned they would lose their jobs with a new regime. A lunch meeting was held at Fudruckers in January 2010 – two meetings to permit proper coverage of the office. The meetings, allegedly headed by the Defendants, are where Litrell stated that those who worked for Crigger’s campaign would be rewarded with Blue Book time.

Helms stated that in April after the runoff election between Alma Hayes and Patricia Crigger (Crigger won the election handily), the Press (which is The Collin County Observer) made a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the time records of the District Clerk Employees during the period of the campaign. Records were provided – but none of the Blue Book time was supplied.

The Human Resources Department noticed irregularities in time keeping. This was attributed to supervisors overriding the computer records and entering time arrival and departures in whole/exact numbers. If an employee swiped their card in the reader, the time would probably not be at the exact hour, for example.

The HR department audited the time records. The supervisors then collected the access cards of the employees and “swiped” various employees in or out of work to make it appear they were in the office, when they were, in fact, exercising paid leave pursuant to the Blue Book.

In June 2010, the Texas Rangers raided the District Clerk’s office and confiscated records and computer hard drives. Helms stated that despite the FOIA press request, the HR audit, and a raid by the Texas Rangers, the Defendants never conducted any type or form of internal investigation.

Helms concluded by stating that the Defendants had a “feeling of entitlement” and “undermined the integrity of an election.” Crigger had second thoughts about using the Blue Book time but did nothing to stop it and she benefitted from it.

Patricia Crigger

Defendant Patricia Crigger’s attorney, Robert Hintondelivered the second Opening Argument. Hinton specializes in representing legal professionals and elected officials. An experienced litigator with a folksy and easy manner, Hinton addressed the jury and agreed with much of the characterization of the prosecution. He agreed that the Defendants were “Good Ole’ Girls” – they are just good people. He described Kunkle’s office as the best District Clerk’s Office in the State. (Many an attorney, LIL included, can attest to this – regardless of the guilt or innocence of the Defendants, there is no clerk’s office that matches this one.)

He describes his client, Patricia Crigger, as a “God fearing woman” who worked at the office for 24 years in a career that she began as a secretary. The Blue Book system has been in existence since the “beginning of time” and is necessary because the county cannot offer cash or monetary rewards or incentives because of budgetary constraints.

Over the years, time clocks gave way to computers and swipe cards. Blue Book time was kept manually at first then it was kept on the computer. When the HR department asked the Clerk’s to discontinue manually overriding the time records, they adopted the system of swiping the ID cards of the employees. Every time the HR department asked the clerks to change the way they kept time, they complied. What occurred is not illegal. As an elected official, Hannah Kunkle could do what she wanted with her budget.

The employees at the Clerk’s office feared for their jobs because a Crigger opponent allegedly promised to ‘clean house” if elected. The employees had a garage sale to pay for Crigger’s filing fee (to seek election). Hinton stated that Crigger was the most qualified person in Collin County for the job.

The Fudruckers luncheons did occur and Kunkle promised Blue Book time to those who worked on Crigger’s campaign. But this, according to Hinton, was against the will of Crigger. After the election, Crigger told the supervisors to alert the employees to use their Blue Book time because this practice of Blue Book time would be discontinued in January 2011 when Crigger took office.

Hinton then describes what he learned about one of the Prosecution’s witnesses, Kristy Duty. Duty was a relatively high ranking employee at the Clerk’s office who was assigned to the 296th District Court, presided by Judge John Roach, Jr.. Allegedly, Roach, who was seeking re election at the time, asked that the clerks of his court display his signs, alongside those of Crigger at campaign sites. Crigger did not permit the display of Roach’s campaign signs by the clerks and this “infuriated Roach.” Then Duty made her complaint to Roach.

Hinton concluded by stating “mistakes were made,” and Crigger never agreed to this practice.

Rebecca Lettrell

Defendant Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, gave the third opening argument. (Yes attorneys and non attorneys alike – this is a LOOONG trial and there are many players – usually there are only two sides to a dispute).

Walpole is an experienced criminal attorney who recently defended Warren Jeffs at the YFZ child sexual assault trial, and is a self described victim of the former district attorney. He is an aggressive litigator and wastes no time with pretences. He began by stating that the prosecution of this case is “politically motivated.” He described what occurred as akin to someone waiting in the bushes, watching a fire start, and refusing to call for help until the house burned down. He said that the law is not a sword, it is a shield.

Walpole stated that Duty complained to Judge Roach and surmised the following scenario: “I’m going to Dad, Dad goes to the Texas Rangers, and you are getting arrested.” (Note – the past District Attorney, John Roach, Sr. is Judge John Roach, Jr.’s father)

Littrell has worked for the District Clerk’s office for 24 years and this is all she knows. He told the jurors that the original indictments against these Defendants were for keeping the Blue Book Hours – and nothing more. At this point the Prosecution objected to this but he was quickly overruled by the judge. Walpole continued, that since the District Attorney’s office, then lead by DA John Roach, Sr., had their own “Blue Book” system, the indictment was dropped and Littrell was re indicted with other charges.

He describes Duty as a disgruntled employee who is a cousin by marriage to Littrell. Duty and Littrell did not “get along.” The impetus for this investigation and subsequent trial is Kristy Duty’s chagrin over having to use paid leave for a snow day. Allegedly, Duty had previously arranged to have paid leave on that day. As it turns out, it snowed that day and all the employees were able to take leave pursuant to a snow day. Duty did not want to use her paid leave for that day and requested that HR change her timesheet to reflect this change. HR refused and Duty complained to Littrell. Littrell told her that she can use her accrued Blue Book Time instead. For whatever reason, this offended Duty. So, she then complained to Judge Roach.

Walpole stated that the Defendants are not in a position of power and have no influence over anybody. He stated that the legal standard for conviction in this case requires that the Littrell “intentionally or knowingly” misused government property. And she did not know. And she did nothing wrong. He said that the clerks used Blue Book time to work on the campaigns of County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and County Clerk, Stacy Kemp.

Walpole concluded stating “don’t throw their careers in the trash because someone didn’t hold up a freakin’ sign.”

Sherry Bell

Defemdant, Sherry Bell, represented by Yoon Kimdelivered the 4th Opening Argument. Yoon, a young attorney and former prosecutor, spoke briefly about his clinet. He describes her as a 64 year old with a high school education who worked for the clerk’s office for 22 years. She was advised that she could help the campaign and she did not realize that she was doing anything wrong. There was no intent for a conspiracy.

THE JURY WAS EXCUSED AT THE REQUEST OF JOHN HARDIN

John Hardin then made a motion to sever Hannah Kunkle’s trial from the other Defendants. This motion was denied. Helms, for the Prosecution, requested that any testimony regarding the prior indictments and attempts to indict the Defendants be excluded. This was denied by the court also. Helms protested that he did not want it to appear that he was a party to the prior indictments. Hardin then stated, and this is not an exact quote, “when you step into someone’s shoes, you step into the mud too.”

AND THE JURY IS BACK

Hardin addressed each individual juror by name and reminded them that this is the second week of Advent. He described former Constable and husband, Jerry Kunkle’s various illnesses and hospitalizations, including a debilitating heart attack in Colorado, and stated that Kunkle retired to attend to the needs of her husband and family.Defendant, Hannah Kunkle, represented by John Hardindelivered the 5th and FINAL Opening Argument. Hardin is a prominent, long time, and well known Collin County attorney. He has a folksy and casual manner with the jurors. His style is a conversational one which causes him to segue to various points of information – and the summary here reflects that style.

Hardin relates that After Kunkle announced her retirement, Kristy Duty and another Clerk’s office employee organized a garage sale to raise money to pay for Crigger’s filing fee. This prosecution “star witness” seemed to want Crigger to win and engaged in the same activities of which the Defendants are accused. Kristy created a flyer for the occasion. Hannah saw the flyer and promptly advised Kristy that “no one is to campaign in the office.”

He stated he did not know what happened at the Fudrucker’s meeting. He said that Judge Roach, an honorable man, was subpoenaed, and will testify at the trial. He mentioned to the jury that there is an article in the March edition of the Dallas Observer that describes the Collin County “Kangaroo Court.” He suggested the jury review the article and then he told them not to do their own research. (Not sure why the prosecution did not object to this one – LIL)

Hardin then segued to the actual election. He said that a Laura Roberge was campaigning at the Election office displaying signs for Crigger and Judge Roach. Sherry Bell called Roberge and told her to stop displaying Roach’s sign. Roberge called Roach and Roach allegedly went to the Election office.

Hardin then describes the raid by the Texas Rangers. The office was shut down during business hours. The Rangers confiscated records, computers, and even hand searched the purses of the employees. This raid was an absolute shock to all in the District Clerk’s office.

Hardin relates that the Defendants, with the exception of Kunkle, were indicted two times before and the indictments were dropped. Greg Davis, then the First Assistant to DA Roach, made a Brady Filing requesting recusal from the case because the DA’s office uses a system called “High Five” to permit exemplary employees to take leave from the office while time records falsely indicated they were actually working. This lead to the appointment of a prosecutor pro tem – John Helms, Jr.. Hardin relates that Helms and his team interviewed various employees. Pursuant to these interviews, Littrell asked Kunkle to write a letter vouching for her and the other defendants. Kunkle did so, and among the various documents that were presented to the subsequent Grand Jury, Kunkle’s letter was among them. This, asserts Hardin, is the reason that Kunkle was indicted in May 2011.

Hardin then describes his repeated requests for a continuance and his difficulty in obtaining discovery from the Prosecution. He stated that Kunkle, upon her announcement to retire, spent many days at the end of her term caring for her husband and was not involved in the minutiae of the office . He conclude by stating that Kunkle specifically forbid any campaigning in the office.

Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law

 

Cousins, Babysitters, and Snow Days – More from Day Three of the District Clerk Trial

December 1st, 2011

By: Magna Carta
Attorney at Law

On Day Three of the District Clerk trial, John Helms Jr. for the Prosecution called Ms. Kristy Duty who worked for the District Clerk’s office and remains a county employee in another division.

Kristy Littrell Duty

Duty described the Blue Book system as being a system for recording extra hours that employees worked, redeemable as PTO (Paid Time Off). Initially, when a person redeemed PTO time from the Blue Book, their supervisor would manually enter aPeopleSoft record showing that employee had actually been at work. (PeopleSoft is the software system they use in the HR department and payroll department.) Eventually, HR came to audit the DC office because of the excessive number of manual PeopleSoft entries. (Normally, entries are automatically created when a person scans his or her badge.) Once the HR audit was completed, employees and supervisors adopted the practice of employees leaving their badges with their supervisor when redeeming Blue Book time so the supervisor could “swipe” the employee in and out. This created the PeopleSoft record needed to get the employee paid without requiring a manual entry. Duty described the Blue Book system as being secret in the sense that it was not to be disclosed outside of the District Clerk’s office.

Deric Walpole

Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, cross examined Duty. During Walpole’s cross, Duty admitted that the DC employees described the Blue Book system to her during her initial job interview with the DC’s office, his point being that if it was so secret, why were they telling a mere prospective employee? Her response was that because her cousin (Littrell) was involved in the hiring process and everyone knew she was going to get the job. [Implicating the “Good Ole’ Boy (Girl?)” network arrogance that is so endemic in Collin County.]

Duty admitted that she had been the beneficiary of the Blue Book system. When she was pregnant and on bed rest, she had to work one weekend to show Crigger and others how to change some accounting codes in the AS/400 system. She received 40 Blue Book hours for the weekend, which she redeemed. Defense attorneys pointed this out more than once. And each time she distinguished her use of the Blue Book as being related to work she did for the county vs. working on someone’s election campaign.Initially, Duty testified that her only involvement in the Crigger campaign was that she and Melissa Smith held a garage sale to help raise funds to pay Crigger’s filing fee. Later, under cross examination by Walpole, she remembered that she held a Saturday evening meet and greet, close to the Valentine’s Day.

Duty described a meeting at Fuddruckers and recounted that Littrell encouraged the staff to campaign for Crigger and they would “get their time back.”

Hannah Kunkle’s attorney, John Harden, cross examined Duty. She admitted that Kunkle never said anything about anyone getting reimbursed for campaign time. Littrell sent a reminder email (using the county computers) regarding the Fuddrucker lunch. Walpole pointed out during his cross that if the Blue Book system was so secret, why did they talk about it openly and freely during lunch hour at a popular restaurant?

Duty testified that when Human Resources notified the District Clerk’s office that they would be conducting an audit, Littrell sent an email to the supervisors instructing them to delete their Blue Book spreadsheets prior to the audit. According to the Blue Book calendar, some employees would take several days off in a row to work on Crigger’s campaign. Sometimes so many people would be out of the office working on the campaign that there were not enough people for the office to function properly. Duty alleged that phones were not being answered, people couldn’t take lunch breaks, parties couldn’t get their file marked copies, etc. [I never understood what this meant, having lots of experience in getting things file marked. There has never been a delay, in my experience – MC]

On cross, Walpole asked her WHO complained about the service. She said “lots of people.” He said “name one.” She named two people and punctuated it with a sarcastic “how’s that?” Walpole asked Duty to name a single customer who complained. Duty finally admitted she never actually heard any customer complaints–just heard people complaining about people complaining.

NON SEQUITUR: Duty never held a campaign sign for Judge Roach.

Duty testified that in February 2010, it snowed. Employees were told that they could take half a day off and record it inPeopleSoft as 4 hours of “Office Closed” time. If they wanted to take off the entire day, they needed to record an additional 4 hours of PTO time. She took the entire day off, but somehow her time was recorded in PeopleSoft? as 8 hours of PTO time. Initially Duty testified that she complained about this to Littrell who told her to call Human Resources. She called the payroll department and was told that if Littrell or Kunkle would send an email, payroll would correct the time entry. Littrell, according to Duty’s testimony, told her that Kunkle and Crigger wanted all of her PTO would go on the Blue Book, rather than a PeopleSoft correction. This upset Duty. LATER, during Hardin’s cross, Duty admitted that Kunkle had never been involved in her timesheet and Kunkle’s name never appeared on any of the emails comprising this transaction.

The next day, still upset about her PTO time AND all the campaign time she saw being logged into the Blue Book, she complained to Judge Roach. About two weeks later, Roach told Duty and a Lara Roberge, who made a separate complaint, that he took the issue to his father, John Roach, Sr., the District Attorney at the time, who, in turn, referred the issue to the Texas Rangers. Judge Roach told them that they should know that as supervisors in the department, they could face jail time for being part of the system they were complaining about.

[Yes, this blew up over 4 hours of PTO time for a person probably making $15/hour. $60 would have kept all this under wraps.]

Duty testified that she was contacted by Texas Ranger A.P. Davidson. She described the Blue Book system to him and thereafter kept him informed of what was occurring in the DC office. She quit her job in the DC office in November 2010 because she did not want to work under the Crigger/Littrell regime.

Duty described the falling out she had with Littrell. Twelve years ago, she and Littrell “got into it.” They were very close (cousins by marriage) when she first moved to Collin County. Littrell and Husband Adam asked her to babysit their child. She agreed. Later, she decided to spend time with her sister so she backed out. Littrell was hurt by this. She thinks this is where the relationship started to sour between her and Littrell. [There is a pungent waft of “pettiness” (this being a polite word) on all sides throughout this story. Little hurts and annoyances leading to big bangs.]

Kunkle discovered a Crigger campaign flyer in the office and was very upset about campaigning on county time. Kunkle said “they shouldn’t do this.” Hardin made her tell this story several times. Hardin was genteel but insistent and forced Duty to admit she had no personal knowledge of Kunkle’s involvement in anything.

Magna Carta
Attorney at Law

Yes,, Attorneys are Expensive – Aaaand we’re back –

Day 4 of the District Clerks Trial

December 3rd, 2011

By Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law
Guest Contributer

Lorrie Robertson takes the stand. She is a supervisor at the District Clerk’s office. She was one of the Defendants who was originally arrested and indicted.

Through the direct examination of John Helms, Jr. for the prosecution, Robertson explained the various calendars and spreadsheets and how they were used to record Blue Book time. She testified that the Blue Book time was kept on the computer until Rebecca Littrell told her to remove it – sometime before the Runoff between Patricia Crigger and Alma Hayes in April 2010. She did so.

Robertson admitted that much of the Blue Book time was for leave not associated with the campaign. She testified that Littrell told her to encourage the staff that she supervised to work on the Crigger campaign. And she did, in fact encourage this.

At the time of the raid by the Texas Rangers, Robertson had another employees badge in her possession. That employee was not at the office but was exercising this Blue Book time. Robertson, as the supervisor of this employee had swiped the badge to make it appear that the employee was at work, when she was, in fact, not.
Yoon Kim, attorney for Sherry Bell, then cross examined Robertson. Robertson admitted that she was originally indicted. In July 2010, she entered into a plea agreement with then assistant District Attorney, (and instigator of most of these types of cases) Chris Milner.

NON SEQUITOR – Milner has a history of prosecuting defense attorneys for typos in their pleadings – alleging some type of government document tampering. Most of these cases have been dismissed and Milner has been mentioned in other publications regarding this over reaching and abusive tactic. He attempted to prosecute the current District Attorney, Greg Willis, for some crime – don’t know the exact charge – but basically Milner did not like how Wills ran his court (when he was a judge). The Grand Jury refused to indict Willis and took the unusual step of preparing a written statement explaining that Willis committed NO CRIME.

After Robertson entered into her plea of guilty to engaging in organized criminal activity, she kept her job and she wasn’t fined. (why don’t the other ladies get the same deal?) Later the indictments against the other defendants were dropped and re-indicted. She was afraid that her ex-husband would attempt to seek custody of her young children if she was prosecuted. So, she agreed to assist the prosecution.

She remained in the office during all of the alleged campaign activities. She reluctantly admitted that the business of the Disrict Clerk’s office never suffered during the campaign. She admitted that Kristy Duty, a prosecution witness and former employee of the Clerk’s office, was “in and out” of the office a lot because she was working with IT. She testified that not all Blue Book time was actually redeemed.

She was a former roommate with Crigger opponent, Alma Hayes, and this caused discomfort in the office. Robertson asserts that Hannah Kunkle excoriated her for supporting Hayes. Bur Crigger advised Robertson that it was not appropriate for Kunkle to do that and she could support whoever she wanted.

Deric Walpole, attorney for Sherry Littrell, cross examined Robertson. Robertson testified that if a judge or anyone else had advised the office what they were doing was illegal, Kunkle would have stopped it immediately.

NON SEQUITOR – Deric – you are a top notch attorney – so please take those sunglasses off your neck!

During the Robert Hinton, attorney for Patricia Crigger, cross examination, Robertson denied ever hearing Crigger proclaim that the Blue Book system would cease upon her taking office. But she found the Blue Book system to be a good program which contributed to the success of the office.

Robertson testified that the day she was arrested was the most embarrassing day of her life. She was humiliated. No one from the District Clerk’s office told her what to do. She hired attorney George Milner (no relation to Chris Milner)

John Hardin, attorney for Hannah Kunkle, cross examined the witness next. Hardin reminded Robertson that they had known each other since she was a child, she played with his dog, etc. etc. ( a lot of folksy introductions going on here – so BORING) Hardin promised the witness that no matter what happened, they would remain friends.

Robertson, through tears, testified that Kunkle was a very special and awesome lady. At the Fuddrucker’s meeting, she only remembers Littrell speaking and alleges that Littrell , when encouraging the staff to work on the Crigger campaign, said “we will figure out a way to get your time back.”

She met with prosecutor pro tem, John Helms, Jr.. Through attorneys, he asked to speak with Robertson. When asked, through Hardin, whether she took her attorney with her to this meeting, she said no “because he is very expensive.” This statement drew laughs from the gallery and the hoards of attorney in the courtroom. Judge Nelms asked the court reporter to make a transcription of that statement and laughed. (Attorneys are, indeed expensive – and they deserve every penny, I say!)

She met Helms for dinner and discussed car racing, oh and, also the District Clerk’s office.

I had to leave at this point and Bill will be covering the rest of the day. I will continue to cover the trial if you find that my posts are helpful to your understanding of this case.

Lex
Attorney at Law

District Clerks Corruption Trial – CLOSING ARGUMENTS

December 6th, 2011

By: Lex Lawyer
Attorney at Law
Guest Contributor

We have a verdict and a sentence – but I have been asked to bring everyone up to date on what transpired before the verdict. I have studied and analyzed the Closing Arguments – So Get Ready!!!

The State rested on Friday, December 2, 2011 around 2:30 p.m.. The court recessed until the following Monday at 9:00 A.M.. So, everyone shows up in court Monday morning – all ready to hear this rest of this loooooong trial. Guess what? The Defense rests. Judge Nelms was surprised by this and determined that the attorneys would work on the Jury Charge on Monday and they would resume Tuesday morning to read the charge to the jury and to hear closing arguments.

Tuesday – today – Judge Nelms read the charge to the jury. This is a very aggravating time for attorneys and litigants. This reading of a very long charge is required by the law. The jurors get a Charge to read in the jury room but every word is read to them – even the judge sounded bored.

Mentioned in the charge are the legal requirements necessary to find a “conspiracy.” There must be corroboration of testimony to find that a conspiracy occurred. Moreover, an accomplice, (such as the testifying District Clerk employees who used the Blue Book Time), cannot corroborate each other. There must be proof independent of the testimony of the accomplices.

The Charge contained many lesser included offenses. For example, even if the jury finds that government funds in an amount less than $20 was somehow misappropriated, some sort of lesser conviction can occur.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

John Helms, Jr., Prosecutor Pro Tem

Helms describes this case as an “abuse of official capacity.” He states, “this is why we are here . . .” Aaaand, we are waiting for what I think is a dramatic video or something. Nothing happens and an assistant or some attorney is fiddling with some switches on a machine. This temporarily throws off the Mojo of Helms (I hate it when stuff like this happens to me – stupid equipment – that is why I stick to posters – nonetheless, not your fault , Helms! – LL) Well the AV equipment isn’t exactly working and finally, an audio recording booms through the courtroom. It is a recording of telephone conversation between Defendant Rebecca Littrell and Lara Roberge, a District Clerk employee. Littrell tells Roberge that she has used over 100 hours [on Crigger’s campaign] of her Personal Time Off (PTO) and will get it back on Blue Book – and she will do the same for Roberge.

Helms states, with steady eloquence, that this case is about “influencing an election.” He begins to review the charge with the jury. He asks one of his assistants to display the charge on the trusty ELMO projector. (For those of you who don’t know, Collin County is blessed with a Battlestar Galactica set up of technology that is the envy of many counties.) Guess what, the ELMO isn’t turned on. Assistants are flipping switches, Helms tries to get it to work. The attorneys mention that the bailiff knows how to work the projector. The Bailiff is in the anteroom “bailifing.” Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell, volunteers that he knows how to use the equipment. Judge Nelms is relieved and Kim gets to work. (Kim is a young attorney so he knows what he is doing! LL). Kim gets on the judge’s computer then assists Helms with his computer and, voila, ELMO is working.

NON- SEQUITOR – Kim is quite a gentleman to assist the Prosecution with this. He is a better man than me. I would have stared at the ceiling.-LL

Helms reviewed the charge with the jurors. The element of intent is required for these crimes and Helms said intent could be found because the Blue Book time program was asecret. Helms stated that the law does not require that the object of the conspiracy was accomplished – only that there was an agreement among the Defendants.

He reviewed the chronology of events. In the Fall of 2009, Hannah Kunkle announced her retirement. Patricia Crigger, Alma Hays, and Terrye Evans announced they were running for the office. Hays had a head start on fundraising and campaigning. At a Christmas party, Kunkle told everyone they should support Crigger. Kunkle wrote a letter of endorsement for Crigger.

Concerned that Crigger did not have enough volunteers, the Fuddrucker’s luncheon was held. Helms described the Defendants as the “Brain Trust” of this operation who took seats at the foot of the table. Littrell did most of the talking but all of the Defendants “strategized.”

Helms described various emails sent by Kunkle to friends where she lamented the election and did not want to turn over her office to someone who “didn’t have a clue” on running the place. He described other emails by other Defendants that were introduced in the trial. He casually mentioned that there were “complaints” about how the office was run without mentioning specific testimony or evidence.

Twenty District Clerk employees were involved in this activity, and he named each one. (Why weren’t they indicted? – LL) They were audited by HR. After the FOIA request (by The Observer), Ms. Jacobsen from the HR office asked Crigger about the request and Crigger assured Jacobsen that “nothing was going on.”

Littrell instructed her supervisors to remove the BB time from the computer and keep records on “scraps of paper” – a retreat of technology. The Defendants swiped badges for other employees.

The Blue Book program does not stop until June 2, 2010, the day of the raid by the Texas Rangers. During the raid, Littrell called Linda James, an employee and witness, and said, “the Texas Rangers are here – if you are asked, you don’t know anything.”

After all of this, no one was fired. Instead, they were promoted!!

Helms describes some of the various lesser included offenses in the charge. The misuse of a sum greater than $1500 is a State Jail Felony. The misuse of a sum greater than $20,000 is a Third Degree Felony. Oh yeah, and the misuse of less than $1500 is a Class A Misdemeanor.

Helms then used the spreadsheet prepared by the Texas Ranger to demonstrate how the amount of misused funds were calculated. It was determined that for each hour of time misused by the employees, the cost, INCLUDING BENEFITS – NOT JUST STRAIGHT TIME – was approximately $25. (I do not believe the Prosecution could have reached the Third Degree Felony level without this particular formula – LL)

He stated that the Defendants misused used approximately $26,000 of time poll sitting, block walking, and campaigning for Crigger on County time by this calculation.

Helms said regardless of whether all of the Blue Book time was actually exercised, a crime is still committed. He countered defense arguments that much of the Blue Book time was accrued before the campaign activities by showing the various calendars and ledgers that recorded the time spent on the campaign and said that more time was accrued during the campaign than before.

The Texas Ranger testified that, at the time of the raid, Littrell gave him the Blue Book time schedule when asked. He said the Defendants thought they could get away with this and described their behavior as “brazen.” Sometimes, Helms said, “if you are in an [elected] position too long, you get a feeling of entitlement.”

(I apologize for not having a summary of Robert Hinton’s (attorney for Crigger) argument – we were unable to cover that one. – LL)

Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell

Kim focused on the element of intent required by the Charge. Specific mental intent, mens rea, is required for guilt and it is not possessed by Bell. She thought she was doing the right thing. All of the witnesses were co-conspirators and therefore, could not, by law, corroborate the charges of a conspiracy.

He described the testimony of Lorri Robertson. She was indicted and signed a confession admitting guilt. Then the indictment was dismissed. Moreover, Robertson was never indicted of the same crime as the Defendants. He described Ranger Davidson’s Excel spreadsheet as not being trustworthy and much of the Blue Book time was accrued and used before the campaign.

He said, “you cannot trust the evidence to put these women in prison for their lives.”

Deric Walpole, Attorney for Rebecca Littrell

Walpole, sans the sunglasses (thank you – LL), finds the law to be on the side of the Defendants. He describes the Defendants as good people. He described his role as a defense attorney as a difficult one. Many of his clients are not good people and he has to “set fires” (literal not figurative) to divert attention from their misdeeds. But in this case, these Defendants are genuinely good people and he does not need to create any diversions for them.

He reiterated that all of these activities could have been stopped by a telephone call. And sometimes good people make mistakes. All of the PTO was done on the Defendants’ own time. The cost of this trial exceeds the alleged $26,000 in misused funds.

Walpole describes the prosecution as politically motivated and questioned why the prosecution waited until the election had ended to pursue their investigation. Because of the political situation, innuendo was used as evidence and innuendo is not evidence.

He said that Lorri Robertson confessed to nothing that the Defendants were prosecuted for.

John Hardin, Attorney for retired District Clerk, Hannah Kunkle

Kunkle was not indicted until recently – others were indicted many months before. He stated that he did not have sufficient time to prepare for trial.

Hardin related that John Roach, Sr., former Collin County District Attorney, never indicted Kunkle and Roach was a fierce prosecutor. And the fact that Roach did not prosecute Kunkle and Helms did, demonstrates the overzealousness of Helms, the prosecutor pro tem. Then, according to an observer in the court room, Hardin raised his hands above his head and started doing a “dance” toward Helms. While “dancing,” Hardin complained of the overzealous prosecution. He stopped and said “I’m so sorry, I just get upset.” No one objected to this (and I am not judging, in fact, I am impressed – Hardin’s client was acquitted, after all!)

He stated the evidence was insufficient for a conviction. He told the jurors that regardless of their verdict, he would like to get to know them and talk to them. Hardin concluded by stating, “when you leave the courthouse, on this cold day, during Christmas, you should feel good about what you did.”

John Helms, Jr., Prosecution – Rebuttal

Aaaaaaaand finally – we see the finish line. Helms stated that intent is not needed for a conviction. (huh?? – LL) He said a phone call would not have stopped the use of Blue Book time – the Defendants were fully engaged in these actions and were committed to it. There was never an internal investigation by the District Clerk’s office. The only investigation that was conducted was to find out who the whistle blowers are. Crigger’s reaction to the raid was to promote Bell and Littrell. He ended by stating that this is a third degree felony and the Defendants know it.

Hannah Kunkle was found NOT GUILTY
Patricia Crigger, Sherry Bell, and Rebecca Littrell were found GUILTY of all charges against them and accepted two years of probation each.

Lex Lawyer
Attorney at Law

Posted in Guest Opinions

WE HAVE A VERDICT IN THE DISTRICT CLERKS CORRUPTION CASE

December 6th, 2011

*BREAKING NEWS*

Bill was in the courtroom when the jury annnounced their verdict.

Patricia Crigger – GUILTY on all charges
Rebecca Littrell – GUILTY on all charges
Sherry Bell – GUILTY on her one charge
Hannah Kunkle – NOT GUILTY – Kunkle is acquitted.

Judge Nelms immediately asked Crigger to stand. He said, “you are removed from your office effective immediately. Do you understand?” Crigger replied, “Yes sir.”

Bill and I will have updates later this evening regarding evidence and testimony from Day 4 and the Closing Arguments.

Sentencing tomorrow at 9:00 A.M.

LEX LAWYER (In Limine)
Attorney at Law

District Clerks Corruption Trial – CLOSING ARGUMENTS

December 6th, 2011

By: Lex Lawyer
Attorney at Law
Guest Contributor

We have a verdict and a sentence – but I have been asked to bring everyone up to date on what transpired before the verdict. I have studied and analyzed the Closing Arguments – So Get Ready!!!

The State rested on Friday, December 2, 2011 around 2:30 p.m.. The court recessed until the following Monday at 9:00 A.M.. So, everyone shows up in court Monday morning – all ready to hear this rest of this loooooong trial. Guess what? The Defense rests. Judge Nelms was surprised by this and determined that the attorneys would work on the Jury Charge on Monday and they would resume Tuesday morning to read the charge to the jury and to hear closing arguments.

Tuesday – today – Judge Nelms read the charge to the jury. This is a very aggravating time for attorneys and litigants. This reading of a very long charge is required by the law. The jurors get a Charge to read in the jury room but every word is read to them – even the judge sounded bored.

Mentioned in the charge are the legal requirements necessary to find a “conspiracy.” There must be corroboration of testimony to find that a conspiracy occurred. Moreover, an accomplice, (such as the testifying District Clerk employees who used the Blue Book Time), cannot corroborate each other. There must be proof independent of the testimony of the accomplices.

The Charge contained many lesser included offenses. For example, even if the jury finds that government funds in an amount less than $20 was somehow misappropriated, some sort of lesser conviction can occur.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

John Helms, Jr., Prosecutor Pro Tem

Helms describes this case as an “abuse of official capacity.” He states, “this is why we are here . . .” Aaaand, we are waiting for what I think is a dramatic video or something. Nothing happens and an assistant or some attorney is fiddling with some switches on a machine. This temporarily throws off the Mojo of Helms (I hate it when stuff like this happens to me – stupid equipment – that is why I stick to posters – nonetheless, not your fault , Helms! – LL) Well the AV equipment isn’t exactly working and finally, an audio recording booms through the courtroom. It is a recording of telephone conversation between Defendant Rebecca Littrell and Lara Roberge, a District Clerk employee. Littrell tells Roberge that she has used over 100 hours [on Crigger’s campaign] of her Personal Time Off (PTO) and will get it back on Blue Book – and she will do the same for Roberge.

Helms states, with steady eloquence, that this case is about “influencing an election.” He begins to review the charge with the jury. He asks one of his assistants to display the charge on the trusty ELMO projector. (For those of you who don’t know, Collin County is blessed with a Battlestar Galactica set up of technology that is the envy of many counties.) Guess what, the ELMO isn’t turned on. Assistants are flipping switches, Helms tries to get it to work. The attorneys mention that the bailiff knows how to work the projector. The Bailiff is in the anteroom “bailifing.” Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell, volunteers that he knows how to use the equipment. Judge Nelms is relieved and Kim gets to work. (Kim is a young attorney so he knows what he is doing! LL). Kim gets on the judge’s computer then assists Helms with his computer and, voila, ELMO is working.

NON- SEQUITOR – Kim is quite a gentleman to assist the Prosecution with this. He is a better man than me. I would have stared at the ceiling.-LL

Helms reviewed the charge with the jurors. The element of intent is required for these crimes and Helms said intent could be found because the Blue Book time program was asecret. Helms stated that the law does not require that the object of the conspiracy was accomplished – only that there was an agreement among the Defendants.

He reviewed the chronology of events. In the Fall of 2009, Hannah Kunkle announced her retirement. Patricia Crigger, Alma Hays, and Terrye Evans announced they were running for the office. Hays had a head start on fundraising and campaigning. At a Christmas party, Kunkle told everyone they should support Crigger. Kunkle wrote a letter of endorsement for Crigger.

Concerned that Crigger did not have enough volunteers, the Fuddrucker’s luncheon was held. Helms described the Defendants as the “Brain Trust” of this operation who took seats at the foot of the table. Littrell did most of the talking but all of the Defendants “strategized.”

Helms described various emails sent by Kunkle to friends where she lamented the election and did not want to turn over her office to someone who “didn’t have a clue” on running the place. He described other emails by other Defendants that were introduced in the trial. He casually mentioned that there were “complaints” about how the office was run without mentioning specific testimony or evidence.

Twenty District Clerk employees were involved in this activity, and he named each one. (Why weren’t they indicted? – LL) They were audited by HR. After the FOIA request (by The Observer), Ms. Jacobsen from the HR office asked Crigger about the request and Crigger assured Jacobsen that “nothing was going on.”

Littrell instructed her supervisors to remove the BB time from the computer and keep records on “scraps of paper” – a retreat of technology. The Defendants swiped badges for other employees.

The Blue Book program does not stop until June 2, 2010, the day of the raid by the Texas Rangers. During the raid, Littrell called Linda James, an employee and witness, and said, “the Texas Rangers are here – if you are asked, you don’t know anything.”

After all of this, no one was fired. Instead, they were promoted!!

Helms describes some of the various lesser included offenses in the charge. The misuse of a sum greater than $1500 is a State Jail Felony. The misuse of a sum greater than $20,000 is a Third Degree Felony. Oh yeah, and the misuse of less than $1500 is a Class A Misdemeanor.

Helms then used the spreadsheet prepared by the Texas Ranger to demonstrate how the amount of misused funds were calculated. It was determined that for each hour of time misused by the employees, the cost, INCLUDING BENEFITS – NOT JUST STRAIGHT TIME – was approximately $25. (I do not believe the Prosecution could have reached the Third Degree Felony level without this particular formula – LL)

He stated that the Defendants misused used approximately $26,000 of time poll sitting, block walking, and campaigning for Crigger on County time by this calculation.

Helms said regardless of whether all of the Blue Book time was actually exercised, a crime is still committed. He countered defense arguments that much of the Blue Book time was accrued before the campaign activities by showing the various calendars and ledgers that recorded the time spent on the campaign and said that more time was accrued during the campaign than before.

The Texas Ranger testified that, at the time of the raid, Littrell gave him the Blue Book time schedule when asked. He said the Defendants thought they could get away with this and described their behavior as “brazen.” Sometimes, Helms said, “if you are in an [elected] position too long, you get a feeling of entitlement.”

(I apologize for not having a summary of Robert Hinton’s (attorney for Crigger) argument – we were unable to cover that one. – LL)

Yoon Kim, attorney for Defendant Sherry Bell

Kim focused on the element of intent required by the Charge. Specific mental intent, mens rea, is required for guilt and it is not possessed by Bell. She thought she was doing the right thing. All of the witnesses were co-conspirators and therefore, could not, by law, corroborate the charges of a conspiracy.

He described the testimony of Lorri Robertson. She was indicted and signed a confession admitting guilt. Then the indictment was dismissed. Moreover, Robertson was never indicted of the same crime as the Defendants. He described Ranger Davidson’s Excel spreadsheet as not being trustworthy and much of the Blue Book time was accrued and used before the campaign.

He said, “you cannot trust the evidence to put these women in prison for their lives.”

Deric Walpole, Attorney for Rebecca Littrell

Walpole, sans the sunglasses (thank you – LL), finds the law to be on the side of the Defendants. He describes the Defendants as good people. He described his role as a defense attorney as a difficult one. Many of his clients are not good people and he has to “set fires” (literal not figurative) to divert attention from their misdeeds. But in this case, these Defendants are genuinely good people and he does not need to create any diversions for them.

He reiterated that all of these activities could have been stopped by a telephone call. And sometimes good people make mistakes. All of the PTO was done on the Defendants’ own time. The cost of this trial exceeds the alleged $26,000 in misused funds.

Walpole describes the prosecution as politically motivated and questioned why the prosecution waited until the election had ended to pursue their investigation. Because of the political situation, innuendo was used as evidence and innuendo is not evidence.

He said that Lorri Robertson confessed to nothing that the Defendants were prosecuted for.

John Hardin, Attorney for retired District Clerk, Hannah Kunkle

Kunkle was not indicted until recently – others were indicted many months before. He stated that he did not have sufficient time to prepare for trial.

Hardin related that John Roach, Sr., former Collin County District Attorney, never indicted Kunkle and Roach was a fierce prosecutor. And the fact that Roach did not prosecute Kunkle and Helms did, demonstrates the overzealousness of Helms, the prosecutor pro tem. Then, according to an observer in the court room, Hardin raised his hands above his head and started doing a “dance” toward Helms. While “dancing,” Hardin complained of the overzealous prosecution. He stopped and said “I’m so sorry, I just get upset.” No one objected to this (and I am not judging, in fact, I am impressed – Hardin’s client was acquitted, after all!)

He stated the evidence was insufficient for a conviction. He told the jurors that regardless of their verdict, he would like to get to know them and talk to them. Hardin concluded by stating, “when you leave the courthouse, on this cold day, during Christmas, you should feel good about what you did.”

John Helms, Jr., Prosecution – Rebuttal

Aaaaaaaand finally – we see the finish line. Helms stated that intent is not needed for a conviction. (huh?? – LL) He said a phone call would not have stopped the use of Blue Book time – the Defendants were fully engaged in these actions and were committed to it. There was never an internal investigation by the District Clerk’s office. The only investigation that was conducted was to find out who the whistle blowers are. Crigger’s reaction to the raid was to promote Bell and Littrell. He ended by stating that this is a third degree felony and the Defendants know it.

Hannah Kunkle was found NOT GUILTY
Patricia Crigger, Sherry Bell, and Rebecca Littrell were found GUILTY of all charges against them and accepted two years of probation each.

Lex Lawyer
Attorney at Law

Posted in Guest Opinions

WE HAVE A VERDICT IN THE DISTRICT CLERKS CORRUPTION CASE

December 6th, 2011

*BREAKING NEWS*

Bill was in the courtroom when the jury annnounced their verdict.

Patricia Crigger – GUILTY on all charges
Rebecca Littrell – GUILTY on all charges
Sherry Bell – GUILTY on her one charge
Hannah Kunkle – NOT GUILTY – Kunkle is acquitted.

Judge Nelms immediately asked Crigger to stand. He said, “you are removed from your office effective immediately. Do you understand?” Crigger replied, “Yes sir.”

Bill and I will have updates later this evening regarding evidence and testimony from Day 4 and the Closing Arguments.

Sentencing tomorrow at 9:00 A.M.

LEX LAWYER (In Limine)
Attorney at Law

 

camp, child welfare reform, foster care abuse, children, cps, el dorado, Eldorado, family, foster care, foster home, government, news, system failure
Keepin’ the Kids – The Latest News on Eldorado

News Brief: Friday, April 18, 2008

We are very gratified with today’s decision to keep all the children in temporary state custody because it stops the abuse and keeps all the children safe.

This allows us to keep children safe as we conduct a complete and thorough investigation and provide the physical and mental health services they need.

The children’s safety is our top priority. Our goal is always to reunite children with their parents if we can do so and make sure the child will be safe.

Today’s decision is about the safety of children.  It is not a decision about religious freedom. The children will be allowed to worship freely. We respect and value the strong sense of faith these children have.  We are not trying to change them; we are trying to keep them safe.

We’ll continue our efforts to identify the biological mother and father of each child, and it is our hope that the parents will work with us to ensure the safety of their children. On Monday, DNA testing will begin for the children and later in the week, testing will be available for the parents.

We’ll begin moving the children into more appropriate placements where we can provide all the services they need while continuing our investigation. We will try to keep children as close to their families as possible so they may see their parents under the conditions outlined by the judge.

Each child will have several people who are looking out for his or her best interests.  The children will have court appointed special advocates and attorneys who will monitor their child’s care and progress and report back to the court.

This isn’t the end of the legal process or a final determination on the custody of the children.  We will work with the judge, attorneys, special advocates, and hopefully the parents, to make the best decisions we can for the long-term health and safety of the children. We will update the court on the progress of each child’s case by June 5.

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