Archive for Monday, November 1, 2010

Colleagues call retiring Judge Jean Shepherd’s expertise with family law ‘irreplaceable’

Retiring Douglas County family court Judge Jean Shepherd talks about the cases she's heard and the children she's met over her career, and gives her advice for anyone taking her place.

November 1, 2010


Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd, will step down in January. Shepherd was the first woman judge in Douglas County.

Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd, will step down in January. Shepherd was the first woman judge in Douglas County.

The bulletin board in Judge Jean Shepherd’s office says it all.

Other than photos of her own children and grandchildren, a good chunk of the board includes memories of various adoption ceremonies that Shepherd, Douglas County’s longtime family court judge, has presided over.

“When I taught high school (before becoming a lawyer), it became real clear to me I wanted to continue to be involved with kids,” said Shepherd, who was appointed as a Douglas County judge in 1984. “What I’m doing now is what I always would have wanted to do, but I didn’t know the name for it.”

The first female judge in the county’s history will give up her gavel in January as she retires, and her friends and colleagues say Shepherd has a left a vast legal legacy across the state, especially for her work with families and children.

“She’s a touchstone for a lot of people in the community who work in child welfare and juvenile justice,” said Heather Krase-Minnick, director of the Citizen Review Board of Douglas County, a court-based program Shepherd started in 1986.

Shepherd has presided over the county’s family court since it was established in 1994, and her fellow judges say her longevity in that area is a testament to her commitment to families and children.

“The most important thing is that Judge Shepherd is really one of the experts, if not the expert in Kansas, in the juvenile law area, especially for children in need of care,” said Robert Fairchild, currently the county’s chief judge. “She’s going to be irreplaceable.”

Her start

After graduating in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education from Kansas University, Shepherd returned to Wyandotte County, where she grew up, and taught English at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan.

Some of her students were involved in juvenile court, sparking her interest in that area. She returned to KU and graduated from law school in 1977. During her last year she supervised KU’s juvenile law clinic and was an intern in the Douglas County district attorney’s office.

Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone, who was district attorney at the time, hired her in 1977 as an assistant district attorney.

When she was a prosecutor, Shepherd said some male law enforcement officers did not want to talk to “the woman in the office.”

“It was 1977; things were changing,” she said.

Malone said he hired her because he saw she was a good lawyer. Her skills were on display in court, and it often frustrated the male attorneys because they didn’t like to lose to a woman.

“She was very, very effective,” Malone said. “ She was always well organized and well prepared.”

Shepherd left the district attorney’s office in 1981 to enter private practice at Barber, Emerson, Springer and Zinn before she became a judge in 1984.

The legal profession is much different now, she said, with many more female attorneys and judges. A majority — four of the six — judges in the Douglas County district are women.

“When I started out, my goal was probably as much of anything not to make some horrendous mistake that would prevent other women from being appointed here,” Shepherd said. “And we now have three other woman judges.”

Work with families

When Malone was the county’s chief judge he established the local court rule in 1994 for the family court. It was a move to have one judge deal with those types of cases. And Shepherd never wavered, even in an area where judges often burn out.

“There aren’t many people out there who want a full assignment of family law cases,” Malone said. “You can never replace the experience that she has.”

A Douglas County judicial nominating commission on Nov. 8 will interview 13 Lawrence attorneys who have applied to replace Shepherd. The commission will send names of two or three nominees to Gov. Mark Parkinson, who will select one.

Fairchild said several factors, including the new judge’s experience, will determine whether the county sticks with one judge handling family court cases.


Shepherd believes now is a good time to step down.

“There are other things I want to do,” she said. “I’m never going to be younger or healthier, so I think it’s time to do them.”

Her husband, John Bork, died in 2006. He was a well-known prosecutor across the state, especially as an assistant attorney general.

“Probably since my husband died, the realization that life is short is clearer than it used to be,” she said.

She will take the next year to travel and spend time with her five grandchildren. Her colleagues say she deserves it.

Aside from her work from the bench, she’s helped start many organizations and programs. In 1986, Shepherd founded the Citizen Review Board, where panels of volunteers meet to review cases of abused or neglected children or juvenile offenders and respond to the judge in writing.

In 1991 she helped found Douglas County CASA Inc., which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, where trained volunteers stay with children who must appear in court and advocate for them.

Now the Kansas Supreme Court mandates judicial districts to have organizations that train volunteers in these areas.

Shepherd has been active in the challenge award, starting a post-secondary school scholarship for students at each high school who were in foster care at some point. She even helped start the seventh-grade football program, where Lawrence police officers coach teams.

Diana Frederick, executive director of CASA here, said the organization has plans to rename a room in the office for Shepherd.

“She makes some very hard decisions, and she touches lives in a lot of important ways,” Frederick said.

As Shepherd thinks about the end of her term, memories of many children float to the surface: Years ago, two girls whose parents’ rights had to be terminated. Shepherd presided at their adoptions, and much later married both of the girls.

That’s a happy memory. But in family court, each day can be difficult. For example, she worries the state budget cuts are hurting the system that deals with child abuse and neglect cases.

“It’s affecting investigations, and it’s affecting services,” she said.

The complexity of these issues is evident, and Douglas County’s longtime family court judge does have advice for her replacement.

“Each decision we make in court is potentially life changing in some way for whom we’re making it,” she said. “I just think it’s important to keep that in mind — every time we walk in the courtroom.”


Maddy Griffin 7 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for all you have done. You have brightened the lives of so many kids.

dragonwagon2 7 years, 1 month ago

Thank you and congratulations on your coming retirement. Douglas County would have been a very different place without your caring presence on the bench.

sandrat83 7 years, 1 month ago

Thank you...... you done a great job..

It will be hard to replace you. None how are trying to get the job come close to you. Enjoy retirement.

Abdu Omar 7 years, 1 month ago

My case was not settled fairly at all because she was short tempereed and disagreeable during trial. On every issue, she barked orders and was totally disrepectful to everyone in the court room except the plaintiff. We purchased our home in 2004 for $171,000. We added a patio, $7000, remodled the kitchen and bought new appliances for $45,000, added lots of landscaping and rebuilt fences and general upgrades throughout the house. The appraisal to separate our assets came in at $178.000 while similar houses sold for $225,000 or $230,000. I believed that the appraiser made some mistake or something, and Mrs Shepherd wouldn't allow another appraisal to ensure this is right even at my expense. We presented other evidence as to the value of the home, but she refused to hear it. She totally sided with the plaintiff on ev4ry issue. I have never felt I had a fair trial. Maybe she was having a bad hair day, but sorry it shouldn't be at my expense.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 1 month ago

well dammit all, lets reopen your case.

Amy Heeter 7 years, 1 month ago

There's a surprise; a man is angry because he didn't get what he wanted in a divorce.

Bob Forer 7 years, 1 month ago

I am a man and won most of my cases with Shepherd. And as soldier correctly points out, Shephered was frequently short tempered. Artichoke, i suggest you save your sexist, anti-male comments for someone who likes you==a like-minded friend, perhaps. Spouting your ignorance on these pages is not good for your reputation.

Amy Heeter 7 years, 1 month ago

I doubt she was short tempered. The way I understand it she was firm, which BTW is pretty much required in cases of divorce and child custody. The previous poster cru=ied the standard refrain " the woman gets everything" Trust me is isn't without a price.I suggest you save your advice for someone who cares about what you think.

shadowlady 7 years, 1 month ago

I'm sure there are a lot of people that feel the same as you wounded soldier. I know of different things where she was not fair, and I'm sure there are kids out there that feel the same way, because I know of them, and what they went through. And I have seen her be rude and humiliate people.

ilovelucy 7 years, 1 month ago

Shame on whoever your lender was. They should have told you that appraised values are based on square footage and # of rooms as compared to new appliances, extensive landscaping, etc. It's unfortunate, but that is the way it is and the way it has always been. Add to that the number of appraisal fraud cases in KC and it's harder than ever to get an appraisal where you want it. I think your blame is misplaced but I wish you good luck.

JovianaRex 7 years, 1 month ago

You are not alone wounded soldier. It's obvious that there was a real "spin" in her court, because look at how people talk about her!: They either idolize her, or (like you and me), they feel she is one of the worst aspects of the whole court scenario. The fact that people are SO polarized points plainly to a legacy that is being "immortalized" by those she FAVORED. Her justice was NOT blind. My great grandfather was a judge and he was known for impartiality, in FACT he stayed far away from any role where partiality would need to be demonstrated. She showed no such discretion, being WELL-KNOWN for her "bad tempered" days. It is NOTa proud legacy at all for any judge. Those who wish to laud her retirement would also probably state they had had a positive experience in her court---i.e. she sided with them.

Jean1183 7 years, 1 month ago

Judge Shepherd is very wise and WILL be missed.

She was able to see right through my granddaughter's father who was trying to prove that she was making up a story about being abused.

Enjoy your retirement & your grandchildren, Judge Shepherd!

Amy Heeter 7 years, 1 month ago

That's my point. Somehow the judges ability to see through a person's motive now makes her short tempered. I for one fear just what is going to happen to the family court in this county when she leaves. It is my hope that Peggy Kittle takes over.

shadowlady 7 years, 1 month ago

Well, she may have seen through your granddaughter's Father, but she sure didn't in my grandchildren's Father, and on top of that the Father was proved that he lied on the witness stand, and she did NOTHING about it. Just goes to show you, some can get justice in her court and others can not. Or maybe I guess it just depends on what mood she is in for the day, or at the moment. So sorry folks my sentiments aren't as well as yours, I'm glad she is retiring, and for those that did get jusice in her court, I'm glad for ya.

Alceste 7 years, 1 month ago

Perhaps now their shall be some "justice is blind" judging going on starting in January due to the retirement of this Chief County Social Worker....

Alceste 7 years, 1 month ago

Nope. Never been on the losing side of a "family law" matter; and for that matter, never been on the losing side of a "disputed" "damage deposit" matter.

My observations relative to the the Douglas County Chief Social Worker's departure center around rank observations of the destruction her (OUR?) Court has perpetrated on the lives of, for the most part, the disenfranchised of Douglas County who typically do not have store bought legal counsel, but rather are relegated to "appointed counsel" who provide very sloppy, if any, legal representation. I am not referring to divorces, custody matters, child support issues or any other nonsense: I'm referring to the harm done to children when they are removed from their family homes and the inability of a careless "system" to do anything but terminate parental rights. Never the wealthy or well heeled did this "judge" deal with in this regard....only the impoverished.

Richard Payton 7 years, 1 month ago

How do felons vote for Judges? They vote no! Enjoy your retirement and thanks for being a fair Judge that was tough but fair. I appreciate your service!

Ronda Miller 7 years, 1 month ago

Congratulations, Judge Shepard. My experiences with you have all been positive ones. I always felt comfortable talking directly to you during foster children's hearings.

You considered all factors carefully and compassionately while making difficult decisions. You've done more for children's and women's rights within our community than any other person.

Thank you, Judge! May you have many years of enjoyment with your retirement. I for one am hoping you'll write your book.

lawslady 7 years, 1 month ago

Judge S has a well earned reputation of being fair, impartial, professional and intelligent. Since the very essence of a disputed court case involves parties who disagree, one can assume that the losing side of any case will not like the presiding judge. But like her esteemed and much missed husband John, she has done more things right than wrong, and has given more people joy than sadness. Her brand of respectful law will be hard to replace. I wish her nothing but the best.

Alia Ahmed 7 years, 1 month ago

Congratulations, Judge Shepherd on your well-deserved retirement. I hope you thoroughly enjoy your travels and time spent with your children and grandchildren!

lucky7brand 7 years, 1 month ago

Any1 know who the aaplicants are to replace Judge Shephard?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 1 month ago

The only case which I am familiar with that Judge Jean Shepherd presided over was on March 12, 1986, when the natural parent's rights to Baby John Doe, an abandoned infant who was found in a stairwell at 2400 Alabama on January 19, 1986, were severed.

After all this time, about the only quibble I have with that case is that she should have ordered the Lawrence Police Department to look a bit more into where he came from before ordering the severance.

With not to much effort, the police could have located the natural parents. Here's a hint for the police department, just in case a similar crime occurs in the future:

Canvass the neighborhood, knocking on the neighbor's doors. Ask them all if they have any idea as to where that abandonded baby could have come from. If the police had done that back then instead of doing nothing, they would have located the natural parents within a day.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 1 month ago

And to top it off, when I actually did call the LPD to tell them who the natural mother was, the officer I spoke with wasn't interested!

lccaf 7 years, 1 month ago

Judge Shepherd, I would simply like to say "Thank you" 13 years of being in your courtroom as a CASA and then a foster parent has taught me there is rarely an simple answer. Again, You have my appreciation and gratitude for caring about the 29 teens that entered my life. Enjoy not having to be Soloman anymore! Sincerely, Davina Gans

JovianaRex 7 years, 1 month ago

BTW: It's spelled "Solomon" (if accuracy makes any difference to you.)

olivia 6 years, 11 months ago

Our guardian ad litem confessed to us, after attempting to resign from our child's case, that "best interests of the child" alas, usually really means the judge's....CASA volunteers often had a dreadful, dreadful job, a truly terrifying task in a sometimes heartless mill of perpetuated misery. Our child could barely speak. He was taken from his school and across the state. He did not want to go. Eventually the father relented and he was quietly returned, two years later, with no court case, so the father could preserve his lack of financial obligation without the judge's notice. We have great sympathy for the court workers who had to enforce so much.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 1 month ago

I wasn't sure, but I think she's the one who divorced me from my wife. I don't recall our judge being angry or bitter or anything but a judge; there to do her job and help us get through a bad situation.

HaRDNoK9 7 years, 1 month ago

She is the judge that presided over my daughter's adoption. She was very respectful and professional and even capped my attorney fees, saving me about a thousand bucks! She helped make my family complete, I wish her the very best. Good for her!

olivia 6 years, 11 months ago

Poor Judge Shepherd. She became like the old woman who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn't know what to do. Once she was young and kind. But she left three tiny children---one was six months old---in someone else's care to have her career, and the career went to her head. Now the children are gone.

tedderic87 5 years, 7 months ago

In my experience Judge Shepherd had no patience for the most important court decision of my life. She stormed out of the courtroom as though we were on a TV courtroom drama. If I had wanted Judge Judy, I would have applied for the show. I would really like to believe that the substance of Judge Shepherd's career was full of more meaningful times in the courtroom. However, I happened to be the victim of her dismissal. It was not only heartbreakingly sad, but life changing. Adaptation is survival. I adapted and I survived, but the US Judicial system was broken when Judge Shepherd was involved. "Honorable" is a title I hold dear and could not personally bestow upon her. Not because of a decision for or against me, but because of her impertinent behavior during the due process of law that our constitution guarantees to all of us. I am happy to see her leave the bench and I hope that a more open ear and a more open heart resides there today. The process of the law is something that people in this country should be able to depend upon. I am a believer in the fundamental principals of the constitution and the conception of our great country. I hope for a more perfect union and a more perfect future.

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