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.