From: Curtis and Amy Bates
To: Jacob Anderegg, Jerry Anderson, Johnny Anderson, Patrice Arent, Roger Barrus, Jim Bird, Joel Briscoe, Melvin Brown, Kay Christofferson, Jon Cox, Richard Cunningham, Brad Dee, Jack Draxler, Susan Duckworth, Jim Dunnigan, Becky Edwards, Steve Eliason, Janice Fisher, Gage Froerer, Francis Gibson, Richard Greenwood, Keith Grover, Craig Hall, Steve Handy, Lynn Hemingway, Greg Hughes, Eric Hutchings, Ken Ivory, Brian King, John Knotwell, Brad Last, Dana Layton, David Lifferth, Rebecca Lockhart, John G. Mathis, Daniel McCay, Kay Mciff, Michael Mckell, Carol Moss, Merrill Nelson, Jim Nielson, mnoel, Curtis Oda, Lee Perry, Jeremy Peterson, Val Peterson, Dixon Pitcher, Marie Poulson, Kraig Powell, Marc Roberts, Angela Romero, Doug Sagers, Dean Sanpei, Jennifer M. Seelig, Lowry Snow, Robert Spendlove, Jon Stanard, Keven John Stratton, Earl Tanner, Curt Webb, John Westwood, Mark A. Wheatley, Ryan Wilcox, Larry Wiley, Brad Wilson,
Subject: House Bill 318
Date: Sun Mar 02 04:38:00 MST 2014
I write to you as a foster and adoptive parent.  My wife and I have been foster parents for over five years.  We have adopted two of our foster kids, our youngest in 2010 and more recently we adopted our nine year-old daugher last year.  We have been involved in the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) process and understand what effect further delays would have had on our nine year-old daughter.  She had already been in the foster care system for over a year, having been with two other foster families before coming to us.  We are quite confident that if an option for a jury trial had been available her parents would have chosen it despite their continued lack of progress in making the changes they needed to effect reunification.  We are also confident the outcome would have remained the same (her parents did not even show for the TPR proceeding) but would have delayed the permanency outcome needlessly.

House Bill 318 is a mistake this time and every time a similar bill is introduced.  I would ask that you reflect on why the right to jury trial in these types of cases (TPRs) is only extended in a handful of states.  I would also ask that you review Arizona’s attempt at such a law that was eventually repealed as well as the fact that Wisconsin is currently reviewing the elimination of the right to jury trial in their state.

First I would like to point out an article in the  Wisconsin Lawyer, a publication of the State Bar of Wisconsin,  Contrary to the Childs Best Interest: Jury Trials in Children's Court Proceedings.  Wisconsin is one of those few states that has had the right to jury trial.  The article mentions the fact that a legislative study committee there recommended elimination of the jury trial option in Wisconsin because it essentially is not in the best interest of the child.  Quoting from this article:

The federal government has recommended that state laws provide for the termination of parental rights without the use of juries for good reason.     In recommending that states not allow the use of juries in TPR cases, the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has stated the following:

“Among the reasons for having termination proceedings tried by judges rather than juries are the following: First, jury trials proceed more slowly than trials by judges and thus delay permanency for children. Second, jury trials take far more attorney and court time than trials by judges, thus crowding the court docket and preventing attorneys from preparing other cases. This further delays permanency for children. Third, for reasons described elsewhere, the quality of decisions in child abuse and neglect cases is better when a single judge hears all stages of the same case.”

The article also rightfully points out that there is no inherent right to a jury trial provided in the US constitution for Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases.  I will point you to the Wisconsin Lawyer article for a good articulation of this fact.

Arizona also for a time had the right to a jury trial in TPR cases but repealed it in 2007 for good reason.  The right did nothing but delay outcomes for children.  I point you to a study done after the first year the right was in place -Terminating Parental Rights by Jury Trial in Arizona:  A First Year Look .  Quoting from the study’s Forward: 

This first year look at jury trials reveals that this mandate affects the juvenile court’s resources and case flow management and places significant additional burdens on all parties to these proceedings, including CPS, the Attorney General’s Office and attorneys representing children and their parents. This strain on system resources also indirectly harms other children’s cases because scarce resources are redirected to the jury trial process. The critical question is whether the benefits of the jury trial process outweigh the potentially negative consequences on the permanency goals of all the children in the state’s foster care system.

The benefits of a jury trial process failed to outweigh the negative consequences on permanency goals of children in Arizona’s foster care system thus the law was repealed.  The noted problems with the right to jury trials in Wisconsin include the delay in the permanency outcomes for children.  This is the primary problem with allowing for jury trials in TPR cases.

What is the purpose of this proposed legislation? To improve the accuracy and quality of outcomes?  Quoting from the  Wisconsin Lawyer  article:

Finally, there is simply no evidence to suggest that offering jury trials to parents increases the accuracy or the quality of the outcomes. Triers of fact in these cases often must address complex issues related to alcohol and drug abuse and mental health. They must also address services and funding related to the adequacy of the agencies’ provision of services to the families, as well as family dynamics that often transcend generations. What is more, they are often asked to make predictions about the parents’ behavior.

For example, in a case under the TPR ground of continuing need, the trier of fact must determine, among other things, 1) whether the parents failed to meet the conditions for return established by the court order; 2) whether the agency made reasonable efforts to provide services ordered by the courts; and 3) whether there is a substantial likelihood that the parents will meet the conditions for return within the next nine months.43 As the ACF report points out, a children’s court judge typically oversees many hearings that relate to the progress of parents and the provision of services to parents. That judge is in a much better position to evaluate not only the past conduct, but also the likely future conduct, of the parents in terms of ability to safely parent, as well as whether the child welfare agency providing necessary services to the parents did so according to the law.

All a jury trial right would accomplish in Utah is what has been experienced in other states – the needless delay in permanency outcomes for children.  Children already experience excessive delays in the foster care system and any further delays will be of great detriment to their well being.  Please consider the linked information I provided in its entirety.  I did not belabor this e-mail with a detailed review of this information.  Please do the right thing for children in the Utah foster care system and do not proceed with this legislation.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  If you have any questions, please contact me.

Curtis L. Bates
St. George, Utah