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[whitespace] Writ and Wronged

Parents have a seven-day window for protest, but few know about it

By Dara Colwell

ONCE A PARENT loses reunifiction rights, he or she has seven calendar days--not working days--in which to file an appeal, termed a "petition of extraordinary writ." The writ allows the parent to challenge the court's findings as well as add information to his or her record--for example, if the court failed to call witnesses, or the parent feels his attorney was poorly informed and misrepresented his case. Once the writ has been filed, the court sends all records back to the parent, who then has ten days from the date he receives them, to submit all the paperwork. "You usually have to do it yourself," says Charles Wittman of the California Family Advocacy Center, which provides services for parents. "Only the trial attorney can help you file, but if that attorney screws up in your case, you go it alone--unless you've got money [to hire another one]."

On Wittman's advice, I tried going through the motions to file a petition. As a trained journalist, with years of research experience behind me, I thought the process would be straightforward. It wasn't. My first step: Wittman ushered me towards the juvenile court clerk's office, where I asked for the petition form. The clerk on duty had never heard of it. She asked her superior, who sent me to Rose Printing on North First Street--about five blocks away--to buy the "notice of appeal form" which cost 75 cents.

At Rose Printing, the guy at the counter told me that the notice was just a cover sheet, and what I needed was a typed motion for appeal. He suggested I head to the law library, up a few blocks, to learn how to draft the form. When I looked puzzled, he recommended I look at the code sections in the pleadings and practices catalog. My first impression: he knew more than the girls down at the clerk's office.

At the law library, I headed towards the Pleadings and Practices catalog. I couldn't find anything under "parents" so I asked the librarian to help me. Between phone calls, he suggested I look at the California Code forms, under the civil section. Nothing. I felt frustrated flipping through so many thick volumes until I found "JUV CT Defacto Parent Status," which referred me back to the catalog. I was now two hours into my search.

Next, I had to find the California Judicial Council Forms Manual to see how to fill them out. There were pages of references and legal background, detailing what the forms covered and giving examples of petitioner responses. In order to fill these out correctly, I would have to read through everything, with a solid grounding in legalese, photocopy all the forms, take them to my lawyer and submit them within that ten-day period. I was not a distraught mother, rushing against the clock, perhaps with little education and less money, trying to prevent the system from taking my baby forever. I was doing this as a reporter, with time on my hands. Three hours into this exercise, I had the forms in front of me but I felt spent. And for those losing their children, that would only be the beginning.

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From the July 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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