CASA Corner: CASA a nerve-wracking but rewarding endeavor
February 2, 2012
My knees felt weak and I thought I might throw up.
I walked into the courtroom for the first time in my life as a participant. The thing was though, I was not in any trouble, wasn’t there to be reprimanded or to have any of my civil rights taken away. I was there to be an advocate for four little girls who were part of the dependency system as their non-legal, court appointed advocate. What was I thinking to voluntarily sign up for this? I could be having coffee with the girls, walking the forest or doing laundry. Even a dental appointment sounded more attractive at that moment.
The truth was that I was part of the very first Court Appointed Special Advocate training class at South Lake Tahoe in November 1994. Twenty-three community members comprised this first class as part of the national movement of appointing CASAs to dependency cases. CASA started in the state of Washington in 1977 and quickly became a model in many counties. CASA El Dorado Placerville had initiated the program in 1992, this was an expansion to South Lake Tahoe.
Judge Beverly ruled from the bench in Dependency Court at that time and I was scared to death of him. OK, everyone in the room intimidated me. The social workers had my first report, knew nothing about me personally and very little about CASA. I can only imagine what they were thinking. And the lawyers were downright mean, from what I could tell. They each had many cases on the docket and would change their chairs and their allegiances case by case, first defending and protecting the child with passion and vehemence, only to then pop over to the other side and just as passionately and vehemently defend the father, next case the mother and back to the child or to another parent. They were adamant, defiant, strong, articulate, sometimes loud. Ouch! The social worker did not like my report very much, and said so in court. The mother’s attorney loved it. Words flew back and forth. I perspired and finally started breathing again when it was over.
The funny thing was that as we all exited the courtroom everyone was chatting it up as if none of the harsh words, denials, accusations, defenses that the attorneys had prepared and spoken so professionally, imploring and perhaps convincing the judge to lean their way, had in any way been personal. It wasn’t, of course. It was a group of fine lawyers, doing their job – a very difficult one – of working to keep children safe and families healthy and whole.
Fast forward 17 years. CASA El Dorado is honoring our South Lake Tahoe Juvenile panel attorneys that hear the cases each week that are brought to the court through Child Protective Services and Juvenile Court. They are each appointed to one party in each case, the child(ren), the father or mother. Each case they must represent that party’s best interests with keeping the welfare of the child as the most important aspect. These attorneys have a very difficult job. They are fighting for the future lives of children, of parents and families. It is emotionally draining with moments of incredible satisfaction and equal amounts of despair. These attorneys have the greatest respect from the CASA program and respect the voice of the CASA as well. It is an honor to work with each of them, Julie Bachman, John Castellannos, William Cherry, Kimberly Hunt, Lori London, Rick Meyer and Paul Palant.
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It would be an additional honor to have the community join us in honoring them Friday, Feb. 3 at Edgewood Tahoe at our annual fundraising dinner. Please contact the South Lake Tahoe CASA office at 573-3072 for reservations. They are $125 per person and all proceeds benefit CASA El Dorado.
Oh, and some things haven’t changed in 17 years. I am still a CASA volunteer. I still get a few butterflies if I know that I will need to testify on behalf of a child or be questioned by the Dependency Judge. I still believe that every child deserves to be safe and every child deserves a voice in court.
– Wendy David is a CASA volunteer advocate.