The Law Versus Judge Lyris Younge

PA Court

Photo from Google.
Room 5A of the Philadelphia Family Court is one of those places parental rights go to die. Or it would be, if presiding judge Lyris Younge had her way.

“She has the capacity to be a good judge,” one lawyer who has served before her told The Legal Intelligencer for a recent article, “but she has these bad days where she takes it out on the families.”

Photo from Judge Younge’s Facebook profile.

Since being elected to the bench in 2016, Younge has led all judges in the court’s dependency division in the number of cases appealed, with 156. Of these, 79 have been closed (decided), and 8 have been at least partially overturned. That 10% may not sound like much, but it dwarfs the second highest rate of reversal, which is 2 cases out of 112, or only 1.8%.

And if a similar 10% rate applied to all of Judge Younge’s cases including those who couldn’t afford to appeal, that would affect thousands of families.

Significantly, half of Younge’s overturned cases involve due process: she didn’t just make a mistaken ruling; she denied them a fair trial at all.


A Bathroom Break Bars a Mom from the Courtroom
In one of Younge’s earliest cases, a mother became physically ill and had to run to the nearest bathroom before her attorney could ask for a recess. In retaliation, the judge refused to let her back into the courtroom. The case became the first overturned on appeal.

“[T]he trial court violated the mother’s constitutional guarantee to due process when it precluded her from the opportunity to be heard,” the appellate court declared.


Judge Refuses to Hear Evidence; Seeks to Separate Parents and Child
Yet another decision was reversed on appeal earlier this month, marking at least Younge’s ninth reversal in just over two years.

In In the Interest of N.M., the parents of a baby girl for two years jumped through every hoop set before them to try to get their daughter returned, only to have Judge Younge change the permanency goal from reunification to termination of parental rights, then grant the termination.

N. M. was only seven months old when she was removed from her parents’ care on a suspicion of abuse. She was found to have broken ribs which a “pediatrician with a concentration in child abuse cases” testified was from “non-accidental trauma.” Both parents consistently denied any knowledge of how the trauma could have occurred. Unfortunately for them, innocence was not an option.

Judge Younge was quoted in the appeals case: “either someone has to cop to [the abuse] or there has to be a plausible explanation…. Until we get some closure about how this happened, we’re not going to get beyond this.”

As to whether the parents could present expert medical testimony suggesting other possible causes for the injuries besides neglect, Younge assured the parents, “I would allow a doctor to testify today. I would. I would. I absolutely would.”

Yet the appeals court noted, “The court again refused to accept from Attorney Freeman the reports and curriculum vitae of two doctors regarding a non-abusive explanation for N.M.’s injuries.”

The family jumped through every hoop, but their effort availed them nothing. The judge “[found] that the parents are fully compliant. It doesn’t move the needle for me.”

On appeal, the court reversed Judge Younge’s decision to terminate the parents’ rights or even to change the permanency goal to termination. But they didn’t stop there.

“We find ourselves constrained to comment as follows,” Justice Lazarus wrote for the court.

“[D]espite record evidence that the trial court allegedly relied upon, the one factor, the elephant in the room, is that the trial judge was and remains the cause of the deteriorated bond between Parents and N.M. in this matter.

“The record is replete with attempts by Parents to meet the goals set by the trial judge, however she continued to put up barriers to reunification….

“In short, despite the goals of Child Protective Services Law, the trial judge seems to have done everything in her power to alienate these parents from their child, appears to have a fixed idea about this matter and, further, she prohibited evidence to be introduced that might have forced her to change her opinion.

“While this court must take and does take the issue of abuse of a child very seriously, the fact that a trial judge tells parents that unless one of them ‘cops to an admission of what happened to the child’ they are going to lose their child, flies in the face of not only the CPSL[aw], but of the entire body of case law with regard to the best interests of the child and family reunification.” [emphasis added]

Our hope, and clearly that of the superior court, is that Judge Younge will give the parents a fair shake moving forward. We would add the hope that one day soon this little girl will be safely returned to the parents who love her, who have put everything on hold for two years to satisfy a judge who simply would not be satisfied.


Needed: Good Laws and Good Judges
We’ve said it time and again: to get good results, we have to have good judges and good laws. Our efforts to present policymakers with model legislation that will aid families, including a Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, arises from this understanding. We work to provide the best possible laws not only to preserve the vital right of parents to defend their families, but to rein in judges whenever we can.

As for good judges, one need look no further than Philadelphia to see why they are so important—and why they can’t be taken for granted. The rules must be changed, not only to let good judges thrive, but to keep bad judges accountable.


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Together we are mobilizing an army of parents to defend our rights and bring much needed change to the system intended to save children, which so often destroys families instead.

As always, thank you for standing with us to protect your children by empowering you, the parent.

Sincerely,


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research
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