Supervisor Rexroad Requests Judge Basha Be Removed from Juvenile Dependency Hearings

The following is a letter to presiding Judge Janet Gaard from Supervisor Rexroad.

Dear Judge Gaard,

I’m writing to request that Judge Steven Basha no longer preside over Juvenile Dependency hearings. Though I realize Judge Basha is a good man, dedicated to his profession, all of our reviews of the child dependency system here in Yolo County point to serious problems with his administration of the Juvenile Dependency Court.

An analysis of Yolo County Children’s Services Program notes staff concerns about issues they felt “powerless” to address. Social workers 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.”i These are only a handful of the concerns routinely expressed by those familiar with Judge Basha’s administration of the Juvenile Dependency Court. These concerns, however, help illustrate the fundamental problem of Judge Basha substituting his judgment for the trained expertise of County social workers with direct and much more extensive involvement with the families appearing in Dependency Court. While it is certainly his right to reject the recommendations of County social workers, Judge Basha relegates social workers to a secondary role in Juvenile Dependency Court that impairs their ability to serve their vulnerable clients.

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. 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.” The Judge persistently gives birth mothers “second chances beyond what is reasonable, to the detriment of the Foster Child.”ii

A two-part article on bypassing family reunification services in child welfare cases in Yolo County appeared earlier this year in the Davis Enterprise. A family had adopted three children after they came to them as foster children, the birth mother’s parental rights terminated due to a history of extensive and severe mental illness and substance abuse. A fourth child joined the family immediately after birth, but in this case, although several aggravated circumstances as defined by the state were present, Judge Basha denied bypass in favor of reunification at the request of the birth mother. In the end, reunification services failed, the mother relapsed into drug abuse, and a child and foster family had to endure two years of needless trauma. This case is one of too many demonstrating that Judge Basha, by choosing family reunification at every opportunity without consideration of the best interest of the child, is jeopardizing the wellbeing of dependent children in our county. He needs to be removed from the dependency calendar.

Children Now recently released their report of the status of children around the state based on 2015 numbers in that study Yolo County was 48th out of the 58 counties in terms of the percentage of cases where children reach permanency within 3 years of entering the child welfare system. Three years. Federal and state law is not reunification it is really seeking permanency (especially infants). It is my belief that this is a reflection of Judge Basha’s refusal to terminate parental rights when it is clear to everyone else involved that continuing services to the parents is futile.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, Judge Basha has publicly stated his personal bias in favor of reunification. I personally witnessed him on May 9, 2014 at University Covenant Church in Davis stand in front of a dinner honoring foster parents and state that in the end he was going to thank the foster parents and give the children back to their biological parents. The biological parents and the children in dependency court deserve a fair and open process. His public statements indicate judicial bias and cast his administration of the Juvenile Dependency Court in a troubling light that, in my judgment, demonstrates the need for a new Judge in this role.

It is my belief that if the Yolo County Courts do not replace Judge Basha that our county policy, due to all the reasons mentioned above, should be to exercise our options under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.6 and prevent him from hearing any new matters having to do with child dependency. He is biased and not acting consistently with the values of this community nor the best interests of children in the care of Yolo County.

It is my hope that the courts will consider this respectful request to be one that can be handled quickly and in a way that will benefit the entire child dependency system.


Matt Rexroad

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  1. Tia Will

    I do not know enough about the decisions of Judge Basha to state whether Matt Rexroad’s solution is optimal, but I would like to write in support of a “best interest of the child” approach to child custody and permanent placement. While I agree that the state is often put in the position of having to weigh difficult issues of parental rights vs the well being of a child, I know from 30 years of experience that when the state errors it is almost invariably in favor of parental rights. I have personally seen children returned to situations of neglect, psychological, physical and sexual abuse repeatedly. The child is seen as the possession of the parent, not as a human with the right to have his/her welfare considered equally to that of the parent.

    In our community, we have seen a number of recent cases in which this favoring of parental rights over well being of the child has had catastrophic consequences. The two that come immediately to mind are Baby Justice and the Talamontes case in 2014.  Both children had come to the attention of CPS. In both cases a strong argument could have been made for foster care for the child until parental stability had been achieved and demonstrated over time. And yet, in both cases the children were left in the care of parents  demonstrably incapable of that care.

    While it may be the case that reassigning one biased judge may improve local outcomes, I would argue that much more is needed across the state in achieving a balance in which a child’s right to a safe living arrangement are weighed at least as strongly as are parental biologic rights.

  2. Claire Benoit

    I have such mixed feelings on this based on my recent/current experience with family courts…

    on one hand I agree with rexroad that parental rights are often being put before the rights of children… but it resonates with me as I stand with too many mothers who have impossible battles in custody courts despite evidence of biological fathers posing serious dangers to their kids…

    on the other hand I’ve also been threatened with having my own kids placed in a foster home because of my refusal to comply with profoundly dangerous and/or ambiguous court orders…. I shudder to think that some foster parent would get attached to my children and then try to compete with me for who the “better parent” is for MY children based on THEIR personal values and ulterior motives…

    ive heard so many horror stories of married couples even, having their children wrongly removed from their homes and placed in foster homes and taking YEARS to be able to get their wrongfully taken children back… horrific.

    so I definitely agree biological rights should not trump the safety of children but I think it’s important that the rules of which children get placed into foster homes tighten up to be less easily misused.

    drug use, physical/sexual abuse, suicidal/violent mentally ill parent, malnourishment, deprivation of basic necessary medical care…. those should really be the only reasons a child is taken away from their parents and placed into foster homes. Any other issues should be subject to milder forms of intervention because no benefit to the child would outweigh the damage of losing of their parents.

  3. Tia Will

    Hi Claire,

    I have a lot of empathy with your position. However, personal experience would cause me to add one more condition to your list. My children’s father was extremely emotionally abusive. He took pleasure in making the children cry and was frequently not satisfied until they were both sobbing. There was only so much that I could do to provide a buffer. After our divorce, he had to become more creative since he only had them part of the time and so used his ability to keep them from getting needed counseling because he would not give his permission for mental health care. I agree that the courts are a far from perfect venue to decide what is in the child’s best interest, and I would add the child’s best interest should always come before an arbitrary or technical order of the court.

    1. Howard P

      Will agree, with a ‘twist’… in my personal experience, it was the mom who was tending to be emotionally abusive, and the dad who defended/sought professional help for the child despite mom’s objections.  Same issues, different flavors… never got to the point of needing legal intervention, and divorce was not part of the mix.  The child turned out pretty well, at the end of the day.  IMHO.

  4. Claire Benoit

    I know firsthand the significance of emotional/psychological abuse. It’s a big part of my history and concerns with my ex. Unfortunately I’m now afraid to even list it along “valid” causes for removal ever since I was accused of being “emotionally” abusive of my own children for my refusal to comply with thoroughly abusive and illogical court orders that went against the better interests of my kids. I guess I should say that the courts/agencies should not be able to use “parental alienation” as a act of emotional abuse… it was coined by a troubled psychologist who also wrote that sex between kids and adults/their parents wasn’t as traumatic as mothers made it out to be. The same psychologist took his own life. And parental alienation has never been acknowledged as real in the psychology world. But it still gets used in many family courts  as a means to discredit parents trying to protect their kids…

    that said I do think it’s psychologically abusive for kids to be separated and withheld from non-abusive parents with whom they have an established bond…

    idk… maybe there should be a little “don’t be an a$$hole” plaque that judges and officials put their hand on before starting hearings ??‍♀️

    I agree with Rexroad kids should be put first… I just think it’s plausible that too many children are making it into foster home over inappropriate reasons while others are being sent home with loaded drug addicts and pedophiles.

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