July 01, 2012

The Role of the Juvenile Court Judge: Practice & Ethics

Judge Margaret Henry

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Juvenile court is different and so are the ethics that apply to the judges who sit in juvenile court. I recall at an ethics training early in my juvenile court judicial career that the instructor said, "A judge may not accept a gift from any party, ever. No exceptions." My hand shot up. She looked at me and repeated: "No exceptions." I said: "What about a picture from an eight-year-old autistic boy who is a dependent appearing in front of me?" She stared at me for a few seconds, and then said, "OK. There is an exception."

There was nothing in writing at that time – more particularly, nothing in Judge David M. Rothman’s California Judicial Conduct Handbook that supported the position of an exception. Judge Rothman’s book is, of course, the gold standard of judicial ethics books in Califorina. As comprehensive as it is, it does not detail the distinctions in the role of the juvenile court judge.

Judge Edwards’ new book explains the unique role of the juvenile court judge in the context of discussions of ethics. The book takes a very different approach, in structure and content, from California Judicial Conduct Handbook. Judge Edwards’ book uses hypothetical scenarios that juvenile court judges may encounter in their work on the bench, identifies practice and ethical issues, and proposes approaches, offering advice and solutions to the judicial officer. The focus is on practical, ethical issues that the juvenile court judicial officer encounters.

The book is well indexed and organized. It is divided into three parts: Running the juvenile court, ex parte communications, and working off the bench. Each has approximately 30 sections with several scenarios. The table of contents can be used to find an exact discussion of an issue facing a juvenile court judge.

The author explains the role of the juvenile court judge and that judges must not shy away from the responsibilities that come with the role. The Introduction should be mandatory reading for all new juvenile court judges. Experienced juvenile judges will read it and think, "Exactly. That explains the difference in our role."

This is a book for specialists—juvenile court judges. It should be kept in easy reach of each of us, in chambers.

$89.95. Order at: www.caljudges.org

Judge Margaret Henry, is a judge in the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court, Los Angeles, CA.


Video Interview with Judge Edwards: Visit www.childlawpractice.org for our exclusive interview with Judge Edwards about his new book.

Ethics Training for Juvenile Court Judges and Attorneys

Through the National Resource Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues, Judge Edwards offers technical assistance and training on legal ethics for juvenile court judges and attorneys based on his new book. Contact Jennifer Renne for more information, (202) 662-1731.