GPSolo Magazine - March 2006
Children and the Law
I have had the privilege and honor of serving as the Children’s Court Judge for the Third Judicial District, Doña Ana County, New Mexico, for approximately three years. As the Children’s Court Judge, my responsibilities include juvenile delinquency and abuse and neglect matters.
My route to this position was somewhat circuitous. I practiced for approximately 19 years as a partner in a law firm whose primary emphasis was insurance defense. My practice areas included school law, worker’s compensation, employment and labor relations, medical malpractice, and civil rights, including the rights of the handicapped and mentally disabled. My last six years of practice before going on the bench were in similar practice areas as a sole practitioner, although I did a significant amount of work in the areas of guardianship and conservatorship.
So, you may ask, how does this prepare you to work in the areas of abuse and neglect and delinquency? I have always had a tremendous interest in issues affecting children. I have worked on various efforts to build sports facilities for youth, school bond issues, and raising monies to improve the quality of life and the quality of education for children in my community. In addition, my youngest son is blessed with Down syndrome, and I have served this community by being active in organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities. I have also served as an attorney for our local school district, where I dealt with many issues affecting children in our schools.
The children I work with now are, in many ways, different than the children I have worked with in the past, as are the issues they confront. Most of the children I see have a dual diagnosis—they suffer from mental health issues as well as factors that contribute to their delinquency. These factors include poverty, language barriers, lack of education, and abuse, neglect, and domestic violence in the home, or simply indifference and a lack of appropriate supervision. In other words, parents who are unwilling or unable to parent. I have seen horrific examples of abuse and neglect. In the State of New Mexico, during the past few years, nine children under the age of three have died as a result of abuse at the hands of their parents, seven of those in Doña Ana County—my county.
However, this is the best job I’ve ever had. As a lawyer, I served my clients to the best of my ability, yet success was measured in economic terms. Now my success is measured in human terms. This position allows me to affect the lives of children and their families in a much more direct fashion.
Altruism aside, there are tremendous employment opportunities in this area. Attorneys in both the abuse and neglect area and the delinquency area—for the state or for the defense—are in great demand, as are attorneys who represent parents, guardians ad litem, CASA volunteers, and treatment guardians. These are certainly not the highly sought after or highest-paying positions in the practice of law, but you will have an opportunity to directly affect your community in a manner that is not offered by any other area of this profession. If you truly want to make a difference in the lives of your community and your clients, then you should consider practicing in this area.Frequently, I receive a note or a letter or a phone call from someone whose life has been affected in a positive manner. In the 25 years that I practiced civil law, I do not recall anyone ever saying “Thank you” or “I appreciate your help.” In many ways, that is what makes this job the best I’ve ever had.
Florencio (Larry) Ramirez is a judge of the Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is a former chair of the GP|Solo Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.