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Juvenile Court Judges Assail Critical Study

Safety: County report that charged jurists endangered children in 14 cases is an 'outright fraud,' they say.


The judges who supervise Los Angeles County's Juvenile Court on Wednesday angrily rejected as an "outright fraud" a report alleging the court endangers children and said their review of 14 controversial cases shows that the critique seriously misrepresented the court's actions.

Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, supervisor of the court that oversees the county's abused and neglected children, said he is considering asking the State Bar Assn. to sanction the Los Angeles County counsel's office for issuing a report that he said blatantly misrepresents the court's operations.

Nash said the county's legal office may have issued the critical report as part of its ongoing campaign to take over legal representation of endangered children. Three private law firms now represent children for about $7 million a year.

"I am really concerned that this system, as imperfect as it is, is under unprecedented attack," said Nash, speaking from his office at the court's headquarters in Monterey Park. "People are losing sight of the fact that thousands of people every year are being helped. You would think that everyone who comes through here is either dead or endangered. That is a real misperception of what goes on here."

Nash and Richard Montes, presiding judge of the Juvenile Court system, made their comments as they released a formal rebuttal to a stinging 13-page report written by the county counsel's office. The Times obtained a copy of the confidential report and reported details of 14 cases in which the county's attorneys said children had been placed in danger of physical injury or sexual abuse.

Montes and Nash said they launched an exhaustive review of the cases--combing case files, interviewing attorneys and talking to the four court commissioners who handled the controversial cases. The judges said they concluded that, in all of the cases, the county counsel's report either misstated facts or was misleading.

"This document is a fraud," Montes said. "It is a fraud on the department [of Children and Family Services]. It is a fraud on the Board of Supervisors and on the public."

Larry Cory, the assistant county counsel who signed the scathing review, could not be reached for comment on the judges' response.

The 15-page rebuttal, which has been submitted to the presiding judge of the Superior Court system, offers a sharply different analysis of the most provocative cases criticized by the county counsel's office. For example:

* The county counsel said two toddlers had been ordered by Commissioner Debra Losnick back to the home of their father, who was shown on a confiscated videotape lying on a bed, nude except for a T-shirt, having his son demonstrate how an older cousin had sexually abused him.

The counsel's report said that Losnick rejected an allegation of sexual abuse and "found that there was no risk to the child."

In fact, the judges said, Losnick rejected a sexual abuse finding but affirmed "inappropriate conduct by the father which placed the child at risk of harm." Losnick's order allows the father to see the 3-year-old boy and his 1-year-old sister only with a monitor present, an arrangement that even the county's own social workers have supported since this spring, the rebuttal states.

On Aug. 27, the state Court of Appeal served notice that it would overrule Losnick and send the case back to another judge. The order admonished the lower court that the "purpose of Juvenile Court Law is to protect minors."

* The county counsel said a 2-year-old girl was returned home to her mother despite an episode in which the mother "decided to teach her daughter a lesson" by driving while the child was dangling outside the car.

The judges said that although the girl returned to her mother's home, a stepfather was appointed as the primary caretaker. He was ordered not to leave the toddler and the mother alone. The county's social workers agreed to screen any baby-sitter that the stepfather brought into the home.

* The county counsel said that a 1-year-old girl was placed with her "rapist, sex offender father despite an expert's opinion that the child was at extreme risk. . . ."

The file in the case confirmed that the girl's father was a rapist, but according to the judge's review, it also showed that the county's social worker stated that the father provided "a safe and loving home" for the girl and that she was not at risk.

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