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WAMU: How DC’s Judge Shortage Affects City’s Most Vulnerable

December 9, 2015

Recently, WAMU covered judicial nominations in the District. While District judges aren’t federal they must be confirmed by the Senate like federal judges. This means judges can sometimes wait months, even years, for confirmation. To find out how this can impact DC’s most vulnerable children, WAMU spoke with Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow. 

Judith Sandalow is executive director of the Children’s Law Center, which helps more than 5,000 at-risk kids and families in the District every year. At any given time, the center has about 50 attorneys interacting with Family Court, which has been hardest hit by the judicial vacancies.

In one case, a mother had custody of a child, who would visit her dad every couple weeks. One day, the dad didn’t give his daughter back.

“The mother went to court to file for custody in the courthouse, and because of the lack of judges, there was a 3-month delay between the filing and that first hearing in court,” Sandalow said.

That was the normal delay during 2014, she said: about 3-4 months to even get a hearing, to decide where the kid should be. That’s up from one or two weeks when the court is fully staffed.

One custody case took almost two full years from the time the mother filed for custody until there was a resolution.

“During that time, mom became homeless, and the family had to deal with all of the problems that come with being homeless. And on top of that, the children never knew for 23 months – for almost 2 years – who are they going to live with, mom or dad?”

The entire family was stressed out for years. The kids had emotional outbursts, weren’t doing well in school.

“It is a horrible feeling not to know what’s going to happen in your life, to give somebody else control over your life, and to have that drag on,” said Sandalow. “And we see that impact on kids. We were in a position of getting those kids therapy to deal with, in essence, a problem created by a lack of judges.”

Things are better this year, Sandalow says – the court has restructured itself internally to try to cover the workload. And last month, after languishing for years two judges were finally confirmed. But the court as a whole is still understaffed. 

Click the link below to read the full article.