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Thursday, July 03, 2008

District Attorney Nola Foulston tries to help families whose children are removed by SRS to navigate the court system.

It would seem to me that if people need directions to navigate the system, the system is unfairly biased toward the common folks. How can one defend oneself in a system that is a mystery to anyone who doesn't work at the courthouse?

The Wichita Eagle

The three mothers who showed up at Nola Foulston's office on Wednesday came to complain that their kids had been abused, falsely accused and neglected while in state custody.

Foulston, the Sedgwick County district attorney, had invited them so she could answer their questions, and because she's still angry about Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services director Don Jordan saying recently that her office "bullied" SRS workers into putting information into court documents that they don't believe.

Jordan has since said he had no basis in fact to say what he did. But Foulston said he still did a lot of damage.

The meeting started with hard feelings on both sides, but ended with Foulston advising the women on how to navigate the legal system.

After a few tense minutes, Foulston told the mothers -- Vaniece Crawford, Carlene Eye and Annette Jones -- that she wanted to help them and other families better understand the system.
Before getting to that, she reminded them that she'd met at least two of them a few days ago, when they and their group, Sunflower Community Action, protested at her election campaign lunch at Larkspur restaurant, and a month ago, after Jordan's comments appeared and about 60 people protested at her home.

Those two meetings were badly handled by both sides, Jones said.

Outside Foulston's home, Jones said, at least two protesters, "people obviously never potty trained," yelled at and heckled Foulston on her doorstep, "enough so that I turned on them myself, and told them to shut up."

But Jones said that when the group showed up at Larkspur a week ago, Foulston greeted their leader with curses.

Foulston was still angry about those previous visits; in a letter to set up Wednesday's meeting she'd asked for the names and addresses of the attendees. "Don't worry," she wrote. "I don't plan to picket any of you at your homes."

She also told them on Wednesday, when they told her that many parents think the District Attorney's Office is too eager to remove children from homes, that, "It is not my purpose to fly over Sedgwick County on a broom, removing children from their families."

The best way families can navigate through the courts is to insist that the lawyers representing the children help them do that, Foulston told the mothers.

For one thing, she said, it's the lawyers' job; for another, the District Attorney's Office is barred by law from talking to families represented by counsel.

But she also told the mothers that her office needed to do a better job of "being transparent," and helping families learn to navigate the system.

She asked them to help her write an information booklet. They liked this idea and said they would.

Some of the mothers asked why there were errors in documents prepared by Foulston's office for cases involving their children.

Foulston told them she is barred by law from talking specifics about their children's cases. But she and Ron Paschal, a deputy district attorney, told them that court cases have to be filed soon after a child is removed, and often end up with "boilerplate" paragraphs when filed. Lawyers for the families can advocate to have those documents changed, he pointed out.

"But I've asked my court appointed attorney to do that, and he didn't," one mother said.
"But that's a problem with your attorney," Foulston said.

She told them that if they are not getting proper representation, they have the right to ask their lawyer to tell the judge that they object to the job the lawyer is doing.

Foulston said she hoped the result of Wednesday's meeting would be that families might be better helped in dealing with the system.

Jones said she hopes for the same thing. But she also said that the mothers had tried for a long time to ask Foulston's help, "and she didn't give us the time of day until after we showed up outside her house and then later at Larkspur."

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