On Tuesday the County Board of Supervisors joined Matt Rexroad in supporting a potential blanket Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 motion to recuse Judge Steven Basha from all juvenile dependency cases in which Yolo County is a party. They also authorized a letter to Presiding Judge Janet Gaard requesting an assignment rotation. The fallout from the decision was quick, with Judge Basha requesting an assignment shift.
Late on Thursday, Judge Gaard announced that, effective in June, there will be three judicial assignment changes as a result of this: Judge Steven M. Basha will hear juvenile delinquency matters, Judge Sonia Cortés will hear juvenile civil matters, and Judge Samuel McAdam will hear juvenile dependency matters.
In a letter from Judge Basha, he stated, “In light of recent events, I believe that my continuing to serve as dependency judge on our Yolo Superior Court would distract from the caring purposes of that Court. I also believe that my reassignment to a different judicial responsibility would assist the families, CASAs, social workers, foster parents, and attorneys to focus on the best interests of our dependency children without that distraction.
“My approach for the past eight plus years as juvenile dependency judge has been to carefully follow the law and always act in the best interests of those children who through no fault of their own find themselves in dependency court,” he said.
The judge continued, “So it is with sadness that I respectfully request a reassignment but I believe that a reassignment best serves all those in our Court who share that approach. Please know that I will always treasure the time spent as a dependency judge and the incredible opportunity I have had to work with children and their families, CASAs, social workers, foster parents, and attorneys.
“My sincere thanks to each of them for their dedication and the respect they have shown me during the time I have been privileged to serve as Yolo Superior Court’s dependency judge. I also thank you and my judicial colleagues for the support you have shown me over the years, especially these past few days.”
In a statement from Judge Gaard, she said, “It is with a heavy heart that I am honoring Judge Basha’s request for an assignment change. Judge Basha is a man of integrity who has spent the majority of his judicial career serving the families, and most particularly, the children, of Yolo County. He has performed his duties in a way that is beyond reproach both legally and ethically.
“His outstanding work as a juvenile dependency judge has been recognized throughout the State, most recently by the Chief Justice of California. Fortunately, Judge Basha will continue his dedication to our youth and their families in his upcoming assignment as juvenile delinquency judge. I am honored to work alongside him, and I thank him for his past and future service to the Court and the cause of justice.
“I am also very grateful to my colleagues, particularly Judge Cortés and Judge McAdam, for their understanding and willingness to join with me in honoring Judge Basha’s request to be reassigned.”
The decision brings an end to the controversial decision by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors to prepare to file a blanket 170.6 motion that would have recused Judge Basha from hearing all new dependency cases in Yolo County – effectively forcing an end to his tenure as dependency court judge, anyway.
In his proposed letter to Judge Gaard, Matt Rexroad said that social workers had expressed that the court “did not respect their expertise in their field,” citing “judicial micromanagement of visits (to the point of dictating where visits occurred),” and “failure to order bypass of reunification services when recommended.
“Compounding this problem, in a County initiated Foster Care Retaliation study conducted last year, Foster Parents strongly believed there is a ‘pervasive bias’ by Judge Basha and the court system towards birth parents and reunification,” the supervisor wrote.
Those interviewed state that, over his years on the bench, the judge “has been outrageously pro-reunification, and takes actions that negatively impact Foster Families.” Foster parents told investigators that the court must “stop giving birth parents so many chances to fail.”
But to go so far as a blanket 170.6 was an extreme move by the board.
Yolo County Counsel Philip Pogledich warned, “From my perspective a blanket 170.6 is something to take very very seriously. It is a practice that is strongly disapproved by the California Supreme Court.”
However, the message from several board members was dismay that Judge Gaard refused to meet with the board of supervisors’ subcommittee and refused $75,000 from the county to fund a dedicated minor’s counsel – both things cited by Jim Provenza as reasons why he ultimately took this action.
“I think I’m of the mind right now that we need to take the action suggested by Supervisor Matt Rexroad in order to address these systemic problems,” he said. He said, “I don’t want to do this at all, (but) I think it’s the right thing to do for children.”
Supervisor Villegas had a similar response, “It is very troubling that we are not able to get to a very essential part of our puzzle here to be able to communicate to the courts.”
Matt Rexroad, in a comment on the Vanguard, said, “Key point of analysis for me — will 10-15 kids each year end up with a better outcome as a result of this board action? I believe that answer is yes.
“Were any other options available to the Board of Supervisors to get the desired outcome?” he asked. “ I am not aware of any.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting