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Keeping Siblings Together:
Send in the Clowns?
In her Oct. 10 newspaper column
(Las Vegas Review-Journal), Jane Ann
Morrison discusses a case in which a grandmother (Maria Lopez) has
been given custody of five siblings and wants custody of the
6th, an infant. Both DFS and Judge Hardcastle denied this
placement and have fast-tracked the infant for adoption in
This is almost identical to a case whose court hearing I
happened to witness on 7/14.
I entered the courtroom just as the hearing began, so
I failed to write down
the caption or J number. It is likely that this was indeed the
Lopez case, although I am not yet positive.
("Preponderance of Evidence" but not "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.")
At the 7/14 hearing, the illustrious Steve Hiltz (·), lead attorney of the
Children's Attorney Project (¿), was petitioning the court to
have a 2.5-year-old child placed with his older siblings,
who were living together with another family. I
don't recall if they were placed with a grandmother, and I am not
positive of the gender or age of the infant. However, I do
remember my strong emotional reaction to the attorney and his proposal.
Mr. Hiltz was
representing the older siblings, and the basis for his motion was
an NRS statute which gives preference for placing siblings
together for foster care and adoption.
This all sounds noble: The bond between siblings should be
respected. In this case, however, it was not the right thing
to do, and this hearing solidified my opinion of Mr.
Hiltz as a representative of Satan on Earth.
The toddler in question had spent virtually
his entire life with his current
foster parents, who intended to adopt. To the child,
these parents were the only Mom and Dad he had ever known.
Mr. Hiltz was
proposing that the child be forcefully removed from these
parents and placed with siblings who he had no substantial bond
with. Clearly, this was not the legislative
intent of the statute.
Mr. Hiltz was not petitioning for a visitation right
between the siblings, which would have been entirely
appropriate. He was asking, instead, for the wholesale
rending of roots.
Hardcastle acknowledged the NRS sibling statute, but pointed
out that placing the children together had been attempted at
the beginning of the case but, for whatever reason,
didn't work out. Now, 2+ years later, Hardcastle
asked Hiltz what
the remedy was for violation of the sibling statute. Was the
solution to remove the child from his current parents, thereby
breaking an established bond which also had a preference
under Nevada law? Judge Hardcastle wanted legal precedents.
Mr. Hiltz had no answers except that he had had a meeting
with his colleagues at the Batcave and they had all agreed
that reuniting the siblings was the thing to do.
Hardcastle was not swayed. He wanted legal citations. He
wanted formal Points and Authorities. A new hearing was set
for Aug. 9 at 1:30 so Mr. Hiltz could assemble this
I returned at the appointed date and time hoping to see sparks fly
and Hardcastle carve Mr. H. a new a-hole, but alas there was
no hearing. (No one gives me notice of hearing changes.)
The matter must have been resolved, I figured, or perhaps Mr. Hiltz
requested more time to assemble his imaginary citations.
So... When I read in the newspaper about the poor Lopez
children who have been deprived of access to their infant
sibling and the cruel Dr. Evil on the bench who is keeping
them apart, I am a tad suspicious. Is Mr. Hiltz involved in
this case, too? Or is it indeed the same case?
According to the article,
the grandmother in the Lopez case is represented by Clark
County Legal Services, the parent of the Children's Attorney
Project (CAP). Does this group really care about best
interests of the children
in this case, or are they just using the children as a tool
to pursue their own agenda? The CAP
program which is supposed to represent a child's expressed
wishes, not their needs or best interests
doesn't have much legal power
except for this sibling placement law, so they are always
flogging it and will use any excuse to try to beef it up.
I sometimes think people should be assigned public defenders to
protect them from the supposedly "free" public interest lawyers
who graciously take their case. These groups always have agendas, and their
help isn't necessarily in the best interest of their client.
Frankly, whenever someone carries a child custody case "all
the way to the Supreme Court," they don't really care about
the welfare of the child. Instead, they have a personal or
to grind, and the kid is the stone they are doing it on.
They would rather submit the kid and his family to months or
years of litigation than find some practical solution
that may not make everyone happy but that at least allows the
children to move on with their childhood.
Now, attorneys from the Nevada Trial Lawyers, the Boyd
School of Law and the Culinary Union have joined Clark County Legal in
case, defending the supposed rights of their various hypothetical
constituencies. Once a
train leaves the station with this many lawyers on board,
there is no turning back for anything as subtle and trivial
as the psychological well-being of the child. These warriors
are pursuing the highest grail of lawyerdom: the making of
case law. The child is their tool, their weapon and their
prisonor until all of their clever appeals have been
Suppose that these fine barristers win their case; what
happens then? Are any of them going to do anything to help
this single, aging grandmother on a kitchen worker's salary
raise six kids? Are any of them going to check on the
welfare of the Lopez children six months later, one year
later, six years later? Hey, this is the internet age. Maybe
we should collect the names and home addresses of the
lawyers and keep them informed of the long-term results of their
court action. Maybe they will want to
contribute something to the post-litigation Lopez project:
perhaps some monetary assistance to help buy school clothes,
or maybe they will give their time on weekends to act as Big Brothers or Big
Sisters to the nearly parentless kids. These are GOOD
lawyers, right?, so they are going to want to look after
the kids, not just dump the case and run.
Let's not forget the Supreme Court hearing date: Dec. 12 here in Las
Vegas. Could be interesting.
Oh, and I want to personally welcome our new and most
courageous player in this case: Culinary Local 226.
I am THRILLED to see such
a high-profile family-oriented labor organization
take an active stand on child welfare, where the issues are
never simple. It takes COURAGE to get involved in such a
controversial case, one that could so easily blow up in
their faces and make them seem like villains. The defenders
of child welfare
always need more public recognition, and I think we should
give the Culinary Union as much of it as possible.
Not everyone would want to tear a young child out of a
stable home with the only parents he has ever known and
place him with a stressed grandmother and birth siblings he
doesn't know, but it's the principle of the thing, right?
Bravo, Mr. Hiltz!
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