Juvenile Justice Court Hearing re Sebastian Soto 08/17/2018
Observations and notes by Gilbert Kliman, M.D.
As a child psychiatrist and forensic expert, I am guided by official information from court systems. The following informational quotes excerpted from the Oregon Judicial Branch web site are relevant to my experience and observations in the matter of Andrea Apple and her quest for exercise of her parental rights and the matter of the custody of Sebastian Soto.
I entered the courtroom thinking Oregon law on the priority of a child’s best interests would be
guiding the court’s hearing. I had confirmatory information for my thoughts, from Oregon family law, which I quote from the State’s Judicial web site:
State of Oregon web site. Judicial Branch:
In Oregon, as long as paternity has been established, the laws on custody and parenting time are the same for both married and unmarried parents. The best interest of the child is the main focus in making decisions about custody and parenting time.
Custody (Legal Decision Making)
There are two common types of custody in Oregon: joint custody and sole custody. The type of custody parents have determines who will have final authority to make major decisions. Major decisions include, but are not limited to the child’s religion, education, health care, and where the child lives.
Factors a Judge Will Consider
A judge’s primary consideration in deciding how to award custody is the best interest of the child. To decide the best interest of a child, the court will look at these factors:
• The emotional ties between the child and other family members
• The interest of the parents in and attitude toward the child
• The desirability of continuing an existing relationship
• The abuse of one parent by the other
• The preference for the primary caregiver of the child, if the caregiver is deemed fit by the court
• The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child
Oregon law requires a parenting plan in court cases involving parenting time. The parenting plan may be general or detailed. It must say how much time, at a minimum, the children will spend with the each parent. ORS 107.102
The judge convened proceedings at 2:15PM. He noted the absence of the mother and the presence of the father on a remote phone connection which he knew about in advance and urged Ms. Lauren Fields to verify. The father announced his presence. His honor stated the case was clear. Only one parent is needed for a child and there is one parent available. He is satisfied that the mother is clearly not fit for parenting as she has failed to show completion of a drug abuse rehabilitation program and has had two urinalyses which “show the presence of opioids and methamphetamine”.
After the case appeared to have been decided according to the above statements by the judge, Andrea Apple, the mother, arrived at about 2:30. She appeared out of breath and flustered, apologizing that her employment had prevented her being on time. This impressed me as her lacking help from her public defender to prepare her by understanding of how crucial and how much was at stake in the legal proceeding. I thought that because the mother has gone through tremendous efforts to be literally alive for her son, despite metastatic carcinoma. The mother’s AA sponsor arrived a few moments later stating that parking had been unavailable.
Together, these foolish acts of late appearance made me think of how the mother’s public defender had been markedly reluctant to have me give psychiatric evaluation input. Perhaps he did not know the mother was a victim of domestic violence, that the father had struck her during the child’s pregnancy, and had knocked her down and never supported the child. Perhaps he did not know she was like a deer in the headlights if the judge would be aggressive, or angry at her, as the judge was. Later he stated he wanted to be excused from the case because he had a conflict of interest, cementing my concern that the mother was being weakly represented. This was her third public defender, none of whom had discussed her psychiatric status or the child’s with me despite the mother telling them of my hundreds of hours of knowledge about the mother and child.
The mother requested to make a statement and his honor instructed her to discuss that request with her attorney before saying anything to the court. The mother said, “It is only a brief statement”, and “I want to explain”. His honor needlessly, disrespectfully and very angrily said “If you speak again I will have you locked up.” He did not tell her and there was no way she could know that he had already decided and announced the matter was simple because only one parent is needed in Oregon law. He did not mention the best interests of the child. He did not tell her he had already decided and announced moments earlier in her absence that there was sufficient basis for having one parent to be taking care of the child, and that was the father.
His honor soon thereafter allowed the mother’s attorney, Scott Walker, to request the mother be allowed to speak and his honor allowed the mother to speak. Among her remarks she claimed there were falsehoods in her social service records, and the falsehoods were false statements by a mentally ill foster parent which were taken as facts. This acceptance of the foster mother’s statements was despite observations by a case worker that the foster mother was mentally disturbed, threatening the life of Andrea Apple and making false statements about Andrea in the hearing of Sebastian, statements which were false and upsetting to Sebastian.
Further Ms. Apple reported that she believes her previous attorney misled her into thinking it would help her parental rights case if she stated she had a mental illness rather than stating she had cancer, artificial menopause and anxiety which were being treated. Still further, she reported that Lauren Fields had created a deceptive appearance of noncompletion of Ms. Apple’s treatment. Ms. Fields reportedly requested her therapy program not to close her treatment until the court case had reached a conclusion. Using this self-fulfilling step, social services then noted Andrea was unfit because Andrea had not completed her therapy program.
Ms. Apple also raised the consideration that her mid-summer positive urines were not only given voluntarily but should be considered in light of the oxycodone pain medication and various anesthetics she had just been given as part of intra-abdominal chemotherapy.
Mr. Walker stated his law firm had a conflict of interest and would withdraw from representing Ms. Apple in the case in view of Ms. Apple’s complaint against a member of his firm.
Lauren Fields, social worker, apologized for having removed the child from the state without first notifying the court, the mother’s attorney or the mother. She said she would never let it happen again. His honor made no comment. Ms. Fields added that Sebastian was functioning very well, had a new puppy, and was enjoying school. His honor said that confirmed the benefit of the judicial necessity that only one parent is needed to assign the child’s placement.
Nathan Law, recently assigned as Sebastian’s attorney, stated he also had information that Sebastian was happy in North Carolina and enjoying school and a new puppy.
His honor made prolonged eye contact with all parties except for Andrea Apple. He did make eye contact with her when threatening to lock her up.
His honor did not allow me to testify although Mr. Walker stated I had come from California for that purpose and that I had new findings about Ms. Apple’s condition. I was particularly concerned, though silent, that his honor did not state the child’s best interest were the law’s primary consideration.
I was also concerned that while angry at the mother he did not seem displeased or even acknowledge there had been a major social service error, literally a collusion in what some would call a crime, and some would call child abuse, and some would call cruelty to a cancer recovering mother. They literally colluded in dispatching a child out of state without due process concerning the mother. The judge probably did not know that I had tried to intervene with the Governor’s office and spoke with the Governor’s social service ombudsman to try to prevent this harm to the child. Nor did he seem concerned to hear from me after Mr. Walker stated I had sent a report on Sebastian and his mother to DHHS months ago and had new information from an extensive evaluation yesterday. My silent impression was that the court and social services were close minded concerning the best interests of the now allegedly kidnapped child and markedly prejudiced against the mother. Nothing was said of a positive nature to the mother about her years of single parenting, her struggle to parent despite cancer, chemotherapy, lack of child support from the father, and a near heroic struggle against spinal paralysis. Instead the mother was a target of the court’s and social services’ cold criticism, removal of her child, and threat of instant judicial punishment for her inept plea to be heard. “I will lock you up” seemed the court’s message in more than one way – psychologically and in physical reality.
Court adjourned at 3:00 PM with a plan to renew the hearing on October 5. His honor wishes the attorney general to review concerns about a six month waiting period before an out of state placement in North Carolina can be approved.
After the hearing I asked Mr. Law if he would speak with me and study my findings. I offered to speak with Sebastian by HIPAA compliant videoconference and recommended it is urgent that Sebastian have a North Carolina therapist who is very skilled at hearing a child’s thoughts. I emphasized that Sebastian’s suicidality and the crisis of his losing the care of his mother and going into an unknown person’s care created a high risk situation. It is my opinion that the situation is in large part created by improper and prejudiced activities of social services and the court.
Mr. Law agreed that the child needs mental health services in North Carolina.
I have the opinion that I had not often witnessed such a needlessly cruel, misguided, close-minded and imperiously social services process. Nor had I from a psychiatric expert’s point of view seen such a lack of priority to a child’s psychological, developmental and relational continuity concerns in a family court judicial proceeding. The impression I had of the need to appeal this case is heightened because it is one regarding the best placement for a vulnerable child. He is a child whose suicidal ideation and separation anxiety were documented, who has a life long history of care by his mother and does not have a history of support and care from his father. In my extensive psychiatric and psychometric evaluation of the mother on September 16, 2018 I had found her to be very well functioning and fit for the job of being Sebastian’s custodian. The court had no knowledge and no receptivity to having knowledge of the favorable findings by her treating facility and then by me about the mother. The social service strategy of inducing a delay in her treatment discharge and illegally allowing what seemed to me a kidnapping of the child to another state had been successful. That strategy succeeded in making the mother helpless. Rather than a sharp rebuke for the crime, the father was praised by the judge as well as social services for having gotten the kidnapping victim a puppy and a private school. A selfish family feud in which the child was an emotional and financial pawn was described in my unheard findings. The family feud had been won by the father’s side of the family, without the court being aware of the enabling role by social services in that pathology.
Gilbert Kliman, M.D.
Distinguished Life Fellow
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Medical Director, The Children’s Psychological Health Center, Inc.