Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

Douglas County district judge has seen, heard it all

May 18, 2008


In this Douglas County courtroom, a dozen or so people routinely fill the chambers - lawyers, advocates, social workers. More often than not, the one person they are there to discuss is absent: the child.

The scene on a recent Tuesday was no exception.

The day started with a case of a missing teenager - a chronic runner. The judge was deciding where she should go once she resurfaced.

Then came the case of an almost 3-year-old boy whose foster parents wanted to adopt the child they had cared for since he was just 3 months old. Paperwork threatened to cause a delay.

About 10:30 a.m., a teenage boy shuffled in, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. He was appealing his jail sentence.

But it was a case before lunch that was perhaps the most dramatic of the morning. Even before the judge entered, the mom in question - dressed in a striped skirt and high-heeled shoes - turned to her parents and told them she loved them. She told the judge she no longer objected to her parents caring for her two children - a change of mind.

She said she'd found a job, was looking for a place of her own and was willing to participate in family therapy. When the judge left the courtroom, family members embraced.

Presiding was Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd with short, cropped hair, stylish eyeglasses and a yellow, floral dress beneath her stern black robe.

In nearly 25 years on the bench, Shepherd has seen and heard it all before.

Any child who goes through the foster care system in Douglas County eventually will find their case in Shepherd's court. The judge decides whether children should be removed from their parents, if they should return home and if the parent and child should not be reunited and adoption begins.

The goal of the state's foster care system is to reintegrate children with their biological families. If that path fails, the next step is adoption, sometimes with the current foster care family.

"They are big decisions," Shepherd said. "Terminating someone's parental rights is sort of like a capital case, in that they are losing their children forever."

Overshadowing these decisions is a ticking clock.

"For a child that comes into custody at 3 months old, by the time he is a year, it's been four times his life span," Shepherd said when explaining her firm words earlier that morning after hearing an adoption had been put off because of more paperwork.

Shepherd, a mother of three, has seen hundreds of children grow up. Some have graduated from college, even earned law degrees. She has officiated at their weddings and a few have returned before the judge as parents whose children are about to enter foster care.

Her years on the job have given her perspective. She throws out suggestions on where to look for runaways, knows of the large family networks that envelop the county and has a running record of children's complicated case history.

But it isn't just Shepherd and the parents in the courtroom. Children older than 10 can sit in on hearings. Grandparents and foster families fill the gallery.

And attorneys - representing parents, potential adoptive parents, the district attorney's office and the child - are there. The hearings also attract representatives from agencies.

With so many different parties, it can be a struggle to remember it's the child that has brought everyone together, Shepherd said. But in the end it works.

"We've all made a real difference in their lives. A lot of people have been involved and that has been a good thing," Shepherd said.


hockmano 9 years, 6 months ago

I think the judge is very capable of doing a fine job.It's easy for the rest of you to be the Monday morning quarterback.Kids need to get a second chance sometimes, and of course there are those kids that need strong punishment.You can't lock up every kid and throw away the key! I don't see anything one sided about this article at all. Judges have alot to deal with. They can't always make a decision that is going to please everyone.

Horace 9 years, 6 months ago

Pywacket,It's good to know that Judge Sheapard is part of the growing number of judges that don't take ever bitter woman's word that the husband is "abusive." Women have cried wolf one too many times with that one, and are just starting to get their due.

yellowhouse 9 years, 6 months ago

We have been in and out of Judge Shepherds court many times during our years of doing foster care. In my opionion she has always put the childs needs first. She has foster parents answer to review boards, During her hearings I have never seen anyone not get a chance to speak in court.

Scott Drummond 9 years, 6 months ago

Douglas County has been lucky to have her on the bench for all these years. Emotionally, probably the most difficult area of the law and types of cases to preside over & she's handled it all well for a long, long time. Want to know how good she is? Do some research and see how often she gets overturned by the appellate courts. It doesn't happen often.Bennyoates, what a stupid comment. You should learn to keep your mouth shut if you don't have anything useful to add to the conversation. When you open it, you only reveal your intellectual shortcomings. Thanks!

bearded_gnome 9 years, 6 months ago

what an amazing puff piece!!!!!under two recent articles we've been pointing out that if a juvinile, a teen, goes before Shepard for an actual crime committed, very little punishment occurs. this article is completely slanted. has no balance, does not show concerns with Shepard's brand of pattycake justice. I was the victim of assault by a teen, shepard dismissed it!

coolmom 9 years, 6 months ago

to hell with the judge that deals with the kids? what is wrong with you? i spent 2 years lobbying for my foster kid in this judge's court and honestly it sucked. heart wrenching for everyone. the paperwork aspects kept putting things off but it has to be done right! our newest family member was officially adopted in april and i am proud to have those papers signed by this judge, time consuming pain in the butt that it was it was all worth it for the KID.

BlackVelvet 9 years, 6 months ago

Shephard dismissed it? well what do you expect.....they're just kids....I'm sure the assaulter didn't mean it. And being kids, they don't know what they are doing, so they can't be held accountable for their actions, right?(hurl, barf, etc) treating them with "kid gloves" (no pun intended) just gives them the sense that nothing will ever hapopen to them. And in this county, that's not far from the truth.

no_justice_in_kansas 9 years, 3 months ago

Have you people lost your minds by even saying that your county is lucky to have her on your benches?Pywacket is completely right about Judge Jean Shepherd.Notice I didn't put honorable in her name because honorable "I think not".This woman is completely dilusional in her courtrooms and half assed shows up when there is a court date.Here's a story.Just read on because if any of you think it was justifiable for her to do what she's done to an entire family you need your head examined more than the judge herself. In the past Judge Jean Shepherd has been known to break a family up for no reason whatso ever using poor judgement of her own.Meaning of which there was never no physical or mental harm done to the children from the mother,the mother wasn't addicted to alcohol or drugs ( on first court date a surprise drug test was given and EVERYTHING CAME BACK CLEAR),the mother had no signs of mental disturbences(mother had 2 psychological assesments done.One in the state of Kansas and the other in the state of California and both came back stating mother was completely healthy as far as mental status and is no harm to herself or the people around her),and the mother didn't abandon any of the children..So in the end the children and the mother that the judge took the children from suffer dearly to this very day.The children are beginning to have behavior disorders because they feel out of place.The mother herself has had to deal with the pain of worrying about her children and just seeing the children through the pictures that she has of them from when they were with her 4 years ago..She's left a big mess in 6 people's lives...All due to the lack of Judge Jean Shepherd's poor judgement and lack of showing her face in a courtroom the way she should have done to see that the mother was completely fit to have her children with her..Now how can you take children from a mother and place them with aunts and grandparents when there were no signs that the children should be taken away in the first place? And if you don't beleive me then so be it but that woman messed up an entire family.How could she do such a thing?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.