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Child Support Collections

October 18, 1998

Re "In 9 of 10 Child Support Cases, D.A. Comes Up Empty-Handed," Oct. 11: Your article about the computer-generated confiscation of money from people who no longer owe it, the 350 erroneous cases added monthly to the backlog by the Los Angeles County district attorney's child support collection project and the errors in collecting and distributing money is frightening. It proves the adage: "To err is human; to really mess up requires a computer." It would be almost humorous if the district attorney and the civil courts did not continue to extract payment of child support even when a man is proven not to be the biological father, or to close cases when the true father is right under their noses. How can this be allowed to continue?

And lawyers, judges and lawmakers wonder why average citizens have no faith in the "system" anymore!

BARBARA SIEGMAN, Van Nuys

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Your series (Oct. 11-13) on child support enforcement in Los Angeles County was misleading, inaccurate and unfair to the hardworking employees of the district attorney's Bureau of Family Support Operations. The reporters' reliance on outdated statistics and their total failure to address the $250,000 Price Waterhouse management audit of BFSO and the soon-to-open Child Support Call Center make clear that your series was never intended to be fair or accurate. Most important, documentation was provided to your reporters that BFSO obtains support in roughly 20%-21% of it cases, directly in line with the reported national average of 21%.

I am not satisfied, nor are the employees of BFSO, and we are committed to continuing to improve child support collection efforts. BFSO's most recent performance, in fiscal year 1997-1998, far outstripped the performance of the state as a whole: BFSO collections increased over 21% while the state (without L.A. County) increased only 11%. BFSO also has more than doubled its staff in the last five years. Contrary to your series, the computer system has been lauded by Price Waterhouse, the state, the federal government and The Times when you wrote, "The county has a computerized tracking system--a necessity the state still has not implemented" (April 19).

We are aware of no facts to support any allegation that BFSO employees have destroyed documents to somehow inflate BFSO performance indicators.

Finally, our preliminary review of the case histories cited in the series demonstrates that they are riddled with errors. The following is just one example. Hasson (Hassan) Husser is depicted as the "victim" of long delays in the handling of cases at the downtown criminal court. Husser is not a victim. Husser owes almost $29,000 in child support and made only one payment of support prior to our filing of criminal charges against him. Husser was convicted and sentenced in July. Despite his record, Husser's first payment following his sentencing was made with a bad check! There is currently a warrant outstanding for his arrest.

In conclusion, the district attorney's Bureau of Family Support Operations is committed to continuing to improve.

GIL GARCETTI, District Attorney, Los Angeles County

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Doesn't it make more sense to put some of the $100 million spent on the collection of child support into family therapy and mandated mediation? Shouldn't the hope of all of us be that with professional help, couples can work their problems out and stay together? And when divorce can't be avoided, isn't it better to help the couple arrive at solutions so that child support is likely to be paid?

As a former social agency director where mandated divorce mediation was one of the services we provided, agreements on child support were honored in almost every instance. Ninety percent of divorces where divorce mediation was offered nationally had agreements which were still honored more than three years after the divorce. The lack of success of the Los Angeles County child support program should convince us that keeping families together and helping couples rationally resolve their problems is a far more effective way of providing for children.

MORLEY GLICKEN, Professor of Social Work, Cal State San Bernardino

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Your article on Garcetti's office didn't go far enough describing the plight of fathers. I personally pay an amount that doesn't allow me to afford a place to live, while my ex-wife owns her own home in Long Beach. As a union electrician, I had several lengthy unemployed streaks, none of which were of my doing. I attempted on a couple of occasions to have my support payments reduced, but Garcetti's attorneys represented my ex, fighting my effort. Question: Why did the county represent her? I had to pay an attorney!

I was convicted in municipal court of nonpayment of child support. All of this time I was unemployed. The first-time offender normally receives trash pickup on the freeways; I was scheduled for six months, minimum.

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