Local News

Thursday, Feb 07 2013 06:13 PM

Court overrules local judge on responsibility for troubled child

BY LOIS HENRY Californian staff writer lhenry@bakersfield.com

An attempt by Kern County to fob off a dependant child onto another county in order to avoid extra costs did not go over well at the 5th District Court of Appeal.

In a published opinion released Wednesday, the appellate court reversed Kern County Juvenile Court Judge Jon Stuebbe's order transferring "Andrew J.'s" case to San Bernardino County.

It also found the Kern court "abused its discretion" by claiming the transfer was in Andrew's "best interests" -- even though the child has lived in Kern County for at least the past three years.

Far from considering Andrew's best interests, it appears Kern's "paramount concern" was avoiding financial responsibility for Andrew, writes Acting Presiding Justice Rebecca Wiseman, a former Kern County judge.

"The question of which county ultimately will foot the bill for the services this child needs has nothing to do with his best interest."

That this is a published opinion means it carries a great deal of weight and can be cited by attorneys throughout the state. It's also an indication that justices viewed the case as highly egregious.

Wiseman's ruling lays out the sad case of Andrew J., who was discovered at 9 years old "dirty and disheveled" and locked out of the house where he and his two sisters had been living in San Bernardino County in 2005.

His mother was in jail on a heroin charge and his "assumed" schizophrenic father was serving 25 to life in prison. The whereabouts of the fathers of his sisters were unknown.

The children had been schlepped among friends of their mother's.

The two sisters were quickly adopted out and Andrew was placed with "Mr. and Mrs. D.," according to Wiseman's ruling.

Predictably, Andrew had behavioral problems and apparently was in and out of group homes until early 2010 when he was nearing the age of 15, the maximum age at his group home.

He went back to live with Mr. and Mrs. D., who were here in Kern County.

Getting Andrew his necessary psychotherapy and other services through San Bernardino was increasingly difficult for Mr. and Mrs. D.

His court appointed special advocate recommended "wraparound services," which involves intensive in-home therapy, and that would be best organized in Kern County. And, she noted, "funding has become a source of contention."

Based on that information, the San Bernardino Juvenile Court made a finding that transferring Andrew's case to Kern was in his best interest.

On Feb. 22, 2012, Kern's Stuebbe overruled San Bernardino, sending the case back to them. He found that Andrew wasn't a resident of Kern because his parents' parental rights were terminated in San Bernardino and it was in his best interests for the case to remain there.

Andrew and San Bernardino appealed.

In the briefs that followed, Wiseman notes, Kern's Department of Human Services complains more than half a dozen times that if the case is transferred to Kern, then Kern will have to pay for services.

Even Andrew's previous Kern public defender joined in, writing a letter to the court opposing Andrew's appeal and stating it would be better to have San Bernardino contract for his services.

The appellate justices disagreed and found Stuebbe had no authority to overrule San Bernardino and he had no evidence to support his finding that Andrew would be best served in that county.

As the case went on, Wiseman notes, Andrew received no services for a full year.

He's now 17. Once he turns 18, she states, he will no longer be eligible for those services, "which he clearly needs."

Stuebbe has retired.

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