I was curious to find out some information on the judge that is handling the Justina Pelletier case in Boston, Massachusetts following his decision today to transfer Justina to foster care until a hearing scheduled for March 17, 2014.
It was very difficult to find out much information about him but I did find out some information on a Joseph F. Johnston, Jr. who I believe is the same judge. I discovered that Joseph Johnston graduated from Fitchburg State College and attended the New England School of Law. Judge Johnston was admitted to the State Bar of Massachusetts in 1985. The Massachusetts court system website lists his mailing address and telephone number as follows:
Essex County Juvenile Court
139 Central Avenue
Lynn, MA 01901
No other information was given about him except that he was a Circuit Justice. All other pertinent categories, such as education, date of birth, prior judicial offices, etc. were left blank.
I also discovered through my research that there was a Joseph F. Johnston, Jr. who wrote a book on January 1, 1984 titled, “The Limits of Government.” The book expressed his views on supporting limited government. How that jives with his viewpoint on the role of government in Justina’s case is unclear. Perhaps his viewpoint has changed over the years.
That brings me to my issue of concern for this family. As a licensed psychotherapist, I interact with child protective services (CPS) on a somewhat regular basis depending on my caseload. I have clients who have been referred to me by the agency for therapy.
The typical reasons that I may see a client is that they are a parent who have had their child removed from their custody by CPS due to allegations of abuse, generally physical abuse. I have seen a few cases in my years of practice and I know how this process works, at least in California.
CPS has enormous latitude in removing a child from the home. They also have the ability to call in experts to collaborate their theories of abuse (physical abuse generally) and they can move quickly to seek the power of the court to award the state temporary custody on an extended basis.
While every case is different, in general, parents are given an opportunity for reunification with their child. This could require the parents to attend programs to ensure that they have the proper skills to parent, attend anger management programs, attend therapy sessions with a licensed psychotherapist, and any other program that the state deems is appropriate to ensure the well-being of the child should it be decided that the child should be returned home.
A judge will usually support the evidence of CPS and follow their recommendations. In addition, the judge is also free to follow the recommendations made by third parties, such as psychotherapists.
A judge may ask a psychotherapist their opinion about whether or not it is in the child’s best interests to be with their parent, the well-being of the child in the psychotherapist’s opinion, and whether the parents are participating in therapy. There could be more questions asked by the judge, as well.
On the other hand, I have seen cases where the parents were adhering to reunification requirements only to arrive at the end of the process and have their rights as parents terminated. The parents, in those cases, have been understandably shocked.
I must admit that most of the cases that I have seen involved allegations of physical abuse. I have never seen a case of “medical child abuse” as have been alleged in Justina’s case.
In searching for more information on Justina’s judge, I was able to find a case from 2009, in which Judge Johnston ruled against the return of a child who allegedly had been physically abused by the father while the mother supposedly watched while the father shook the baby. The mother’s rights were terminated and the child was placed for adoption.
The mother appealed the case in effect claiming that the judge had erred in rendering his decision.
The appellate court set forth what it looks at when reviewing whether or not a judge erred, as follows:not a judge erred, as follows:
In reviewing a trial judge’s determination that a parent is unfit, “our task is not to decide whether we, presented with the same facts, would make the same decision, but to determine whether the trial judge abused his discretion or committed a clear error of law.” Adoption of Hugo, 428 Mass. 219, 225 (1998), cert. denied sub nom. Hugo P. v. George P., 526 U.S. 1034 (1999). A decree dispensing with the need for parental consent to adoption will be sustained if it is supported by clear and convincing proof that the parent is currently unfit to further the welfare and best interest of the child. Adoption of Quentin, 424 Mass. 882, 886 (1997).
Now while the Pelletier case does not involve purported physical abuse as in the 2009 case, the judge seemingly has the power and authority to decide in any “abuse” case that parental rights should be terminated based upon the grounds that the parents are “unfit.” As long as the judge does not abuse his/her discretion or commit a clear error there is no recourse under Massachusetts law (and in most, if not all states).
Boston Children’s Hospital we are told (see my article) has declared that Justina is a victim of “medical child abuse” and suffers from psychological issues because of her parents. In addition, we have been told by Dr. Newton, the head of Boston Children’s child protection department, that Justina is “more impaired when she is around her mother.” Did the judge make any errors at this point in not returning Justina to her home state of Connecticut? That remains to be seen but since she is in his jurisdiction he probably has not committed a clear error or abused his discretion.
My point of this article, in short, is that the further along this case gets the more chances there are for this judge or any judge to rule that parental rights should be terminated.
It is time for parents and everyone who cares about children to stand up and take note of what is happening in this case because tomorrow, it just might be about you and your child.
Most importantly, if we don’t get the word out it may soon be too late for Justina, according to her parents’ reports.
Note: Susan Knowles is an author, psychotherapist and former practicing attorney. Her latest book, a political fiction, is entitled, “Freedom’s Fight: A Call to Remember” available on Amazon.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com.
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