November 28, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Mother’s Fraud in Adoption Deprived Father Rights of Biological Parent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in M.C. v. Adoption Choices of Colorado, Inc. on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Termination of Parent–Child Legal Relationship—Due Process—Troxel Presumption.

On September 13, 2012, mother gave birth to twins in Grand Junction. The next day, she filed a petition for expedited relinquishment of her parental rights. She provided a first name for the children’s father, but alleged she didn’t know any other information that might have been used to locate him. Intervenors, clients of Adoption Choices of Colorado, Inc., were chosen as the children’s adoptive parents. They were present for the birth and the children were placed with them that day. Father’s legal relationship with the children was terminated, and a final decree of adoption was entered in December 2012.

In February 2013, father, who resided in Iowa, sought relief from the judgment terminating his parental rights. He alleged that mother had informed him she lost the pregnancy and that he didn’t discover her deception until December 2012.

The trial court found overwhelming evidence of fraud on the court by mother and held that the termination of father’s parental rights was void. The trial court ordered the parties to confer and arrange for father to have weekly visitation with the children. The parties could not agree on a means to accomplish this order and the court modified its order to provide for a more gradual visitation schedule. A guardian ad litem(GAL) was appointed to provide a written report for the court. The GAL found it was in the best interests of the children to maintain their secure attachment to intervenors and recommended termination of father’s parental rights.

Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that father had not established a substantial positive relationship with the children. The court held it was in the best interests of the children to terminate father’s parental right and place the children in the permanent legal custody of intervenors. The Court of Appeals reversed.

The Court held that the trial court erred by terminating father’s parental rights based on his not having established a substantial positive relationship with the children. Evidence did not support the conclusion that the children likely would suffer significant psychological harm if removed from intervenors’ home. The trial court also erred in failing to give father the benefit of the Troxel presumption. [Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000).] Having found him “not unfit,” the court was required to presume that father’s decisions were in the best interests of the children.

The Court rejected intervenors’ contention that the entry of final adoption decrees conferred on them a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and control of the children equal to father’s, and that the children have a fundamental right to continue their relationship with intervenors and to have a stable, permanent home. Intervenors argued that the interest of the state, as set forth in CRS § 19-5-100.2(2), is “to promote the integrity and finality of adoptions.” However, the integrity of an adoption is not to be preserved at the cost of denying the rights of a fit biological parent. On remand, the trial court must conduct a custody hearing after affording father a full and fair opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship with his children.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Various JDF Forms Amended in October and November

The Colorado State Judicial Branch continued amending JDF forms in October and November 2014, with updated forms released in the criminal, domestic relations, FED, probate, and miscellaneous categories. Forms are available for download here in PDF format, and are available in Word or PDF from the State Judicial forms page.


  • JDF 219 – “Juvenile Delinquency – Application for a Public Defender” (issued 11/14)


  • JDF 211 – “Request to Reduce Payment for ODR Services and Supporting Affidavit” (revised 10/14)


  • JDF 100 – “Instructions for Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED)/Eviction” (revised 11/14)
  • JDF 140 – “Instructions for Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED)/Eviction for Owner Occupied Mobile Home” (revised 11/14)


  • JDF 450 - “Order re: Appointment of Counsel at State Expense Other Than the Public Defender in a Criminal or Juvenile Delinquency Proceeding” (revised 11/14)


  • JDF 906 – “Instructions for Probate With a Will” (revised 10/14)
  • JDF 907 – “Instructions for Probate Without a Will” (revised 10/14)

For all of State Judicial’s JDF forms, click here.

Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure and Colorado Rules of Juvenile Procedure Amended

The Colorado Supreme Court announced Rule Change 2014(14), effective October 30, 2014, and 2014(15), effective November 1, 2014. Rule Change 2014(14) amends Rule 47, “Jurors,” of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule Change 2014(15) amends Rule 2.2, “Summons — Content and Service,” Rule 3, “Advisement,” and Rule 3.7, “Detention,” of the Colorado Rules of Juvenile Procedure, and it adds a new Rule 3.9, “Counsel.” The changes to the Rules of Juvenile Procedure coordinate with changes to the Colorado Revised Statutes pursuant to HB 14-1032.

C.R.C.P. 47(u), “Juror Questions,” was amended to clarify that juror questions will be reviewed with counsel for the parties outside the hearing of the jury, to permit jurors to ask follow up questions in writing, and to prohibit jurors from orally questioning any witness. The amendments specify that the court retains discretion to address juror questions or permit follow up questions. Click here for a redline of the changes to Rule 47.

The changes to the Rules of Juvenile Procedure are extensive. Rule 2.2 was amended to subdivide different types of juvenile proceedings and specify summons procedures for each type of proceeding. The changes to Rule 3 were relatively minor, adding language to clarify timing for the juvenile’s advisement and changing some wording. The changes to Rule 3.7 were much more extensive, detailing procedures for juvenile detention and court oversight of the detainer. New Rule 3.9, “Counsel,” deals with appointed counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings, and includes provisions for appointment of counsel, waiver of counsel, and withdrawal of counsel. Click here for a redline of the changes to the Rules of Juvenile Procedure.

In addition to the rules changes, two Chief Justice Directives were amended to comply with HB 14-1032. The Colorado Supreme Court amended CJD 04-04 and added new CJD 14-01CJD 04-04 was amended to eliminate specified procedures related to the appointment of counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings. CJD 14-01 was added to adopt new procedures for the appointment of defense counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings. Both CJDs are effective November 1, 2014.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Permanency for Child in D&N Proceeding More Important than Reestablishing Familial Ties

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.D. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Dependency and Neglect—Foster Parents—Permanency Hearing—Compelling Reason.

The La Plata County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding M.D. due to its concerns about the parents’ history of domestic violence and substance abuse. M.D. was placed with foster parents and, based on father’s admission to certain allegations in the petition, including that he tested positive for methamphetamine, the court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected and adopted a treatment plan for father (mother’s rights were not at issue in this case). The district court later entered judgment allocating a majority of parenting time and sole decision making authority for M.D. to the foster parents.

On appeal, father contended that the court erred in concluding that it need only find a compelling reason to allocate parental responsibility to a nonparent under the permanency hearing statute. Because CRS §19-1-115 concerns only temporary custody awards and the court’s order here was a permanent custody order, the findings under §19-1-115(6.5) were not required. Further, there was evidence in the record that the child needed permanency and that a complete transition back to father would be difficult and probably result in harm to the child.

The record also reflects that the Department made reasonable efforts to finalize permanent placement of the child and that procedural safeguards were in place to protect father’s rights. In addition, because father was not deprived of all of his parental rights, and because the trial court retained jurisdiction to modify its existing order, the trial court order relating to father’s custody and visitation rights did not require a finding of unfitness to protect his fundamental liberty interest. The record supports the court’s findings regarding several compelling reasons as to why the child could not be returned home under §19-3-702(4). Therefore, the court did not abuse it’s authority to award permanent custody to the foster parents. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Question of Prospective Harm Inappropriate for Summary Judgment in Dependency and Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.N. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Parental Rights—Termination—Dependency and Neglect—Summary Judgment—Prospective Harm.

The Boulder County Department of Human Services (Department) removed S.N. from her parents’ custody at birth because a hearing on termination of parental rights involving the parents’ three older children was pending. The trial court adjudicated S.N. dependent and neglected by summary judgment based entirely on a theory of prospective harm.

On appeal, the parents argued that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on the Department’s petition for dependency and neglect regarding S.N. There were material facts that could affect the determination of whether S.N. should be adjudicated dependent and neglected. Therefore, the question of prospective harm was inappropriate for summary judgment because the parent’s prior conduct alone can never be sufficiently predictive of future conduct to take the question from a trier of fact by summary judgment. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Life Sentence Without Parole Unconstitutional for Juvenile Offender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gutierrez-Ruiz on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Sentence—Juvenile—Life Without Parole—Eighth Amendment.

While defendant was driving a car, his passenger (co-defendant) shot at a truck, wounding the driver. Co-defendant later shot at another car, killing the driver. Defendant was a juvenile at the time of his arrest. A jury convicted defendant of first-degree murder after deliberation and first-degree assault with a deadly weapon. The trial court sentenced him to life without parole on the murder count and to ten years and one day on the assault count.

Defendant raised a number of claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. However, these claims were procedurally barred. Defendant further contended that his appellate counsel failed to advise him of the one-year limitation period for filing a section 2254 petition. This did not warrant relief because appellate counsel did not have an obligation to advise appellant of this post-conviction option.

Defendant asserted, the People agreed, and the Court of Appeals concurred that defendant’s mandatory sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. Defendant’s sentence of life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment because it was imposed without any opportunity for the sentencing court to consider whether this punishment is just and appropriate in light of defendant’s age, maturity, and the other factors. Accordingly, the case was remanded for resentencing.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Doctors who Instituted Medical Hold to Prevent Child’s Discharge Not Entitled to Absolute Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Thomas v. Kaven on Tuesday, August 26, 2014.

M.T., the minor daughter of plaintiffs Legina and Todd Thomas, was placed in a mental health center after revealing suicidal ideation to a police officer who was interviewing her after her parents learned she may have been sexually assaulted. While in the hospital, M.T.’s doctors diagnosed her with a panoply of psychiatric disorders and wanted to start psychotropic medicine. Plaintiffs refused, concerned that the diagnoses were inaccurate and worried about serious side effects. The doctors reported Plaintiffs to the New Mexico Child, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) for their resistance to M.T.’s treatment. After several weeks, Plaintiffs attempted to remove M.T. from the hospital, and the doctors instituted a medical hold to prevent Plaintiffs from removing M.T. The doctors and hospital initiated court proceedings five days later, but discharged M.T. after holding her for seven days because her insurance would no longer authorize treatment. The doctors again reported Plaintiffs to CYFD for medical neglect based on their decision not to medicate their child. M.T. returned to school and nothing came of the report.

Plaintiffs sued, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on violations of their Fourteenth Amendment right to direct their child’s medical care and right to familial association. The defendant doctors asserted absolute and qualified immunity and moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting the motion to dismiss because their complaint alleged sufficient facts to sustain their claims of violations of their right to direct their child’s medical care and right to familial association.

The Tenth Circuit clarified that Defendants are not entitled to absolute immunity for seeking a judicial order regarding M.T.’s care. Defendants’ decision to prevent M.T.’s discharge was based on a medical hold that did not invoke the judicial process. The Tenth Circuit next evaluated whether dismissal was appropriate based on qualified immunity, which is usually applied at the summary judgment stage rather than in a motion to dismiss.

As to Plaintiffs’ claims that their right to direct their child’s medical care was violated, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that Plaintiffs’ claim rested on Defendants’ report to CYFD, and since nothing ever came of the report, mere allegations were not enough to violate their parental rights. However, as to Plaintiffs’ claim of violation of the right to familial association, the Tenth Circuit determined Plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to illustrate a violation. The Tenth Circuit could not tell from the record whether Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and remanded for this determination.

The district court’s dismissal was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

JDF Forms Revised in Domestic, Probate, Seal My Case, and Other Categories

The Colorado State Judicial Branch revised many forms in July and August 2014. Several summons forms in the Domestic Relations category were revised, and additions of Returns of Service and Waivers and Acceptance of Service were made available for download as Word documents to accompany the revised forms. A new category was added for sealing underage alcohol and marijuana cases for offenses occurring after July 1, 2014. Forms were also amended in the Adoption, DMV Appeal, Probate, Miscellaneous, and Water categories.

Forms are available for download here as PDF documents, and are available as Word documents or Word templates from State Judicial’s Forms page.


  • JDF 506 – “Notice of Adoption Proceedings and Summons to Respond” (revised 8/14)


  • JDF 599 – DMV Appeal – “Complaint for Judicial Review Pursuant to Title 42, C.R.S., Request for Stay and Designation of Record” (revised 8/14)


  • JDF 1102 – “Summons for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1102(a) – “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1102(b) – “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1222 – “Summons for Registration of Foreign Decree” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1222(a) – “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1222(b) – “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1251 -“Summons for Dissolution of Civil Union or Legal Separation of Civil Union” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1262 – “Summons for Declaration of Invalidity of Civil Union” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1262(a) – “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1262(b) – “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1406 – “Motion to Modify/Restrict Parenting Time” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1414 – “Summons to Respond to Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1414(a) – “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1414(b)- “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1502 – “Summons in Paternity” (8/14)
  • JDF 1502(a)- “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1502(b)- “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1515 – “Summons to Disclaim Paternity” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1515(a)- “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1515(b)- “Return of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1602 – “Summons for Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 1602(a)- “Waiver and Acceptance of Service” (8/14)
  • JDF 1602(b)- “Return of Service”

Guardianship/Conservatorship/Probate/Trust & Estate

  • JDF 998 – “Instructions for Completing Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 800 – “Acknowledgment of Responsibilities Conservator and/or Guardian” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 848 – “Order Appointing Guardian for Adult” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 861 – “Petition for Appointment of Conservator – Minor” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 878 – “Order Appointing Conservator for Adult” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 999 – “Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit” (revised 8/14)


  • JDF 36 – “Petition for Relief Pursuant to §13-5-142.5 OR §13-9-124 From Federal Firearms Prohibitions Imposed Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §922(d)(4) and (g)(4)” (8/14)

Seal My Case

  • JDF 323 – “Instructions to File a Petition to Seal Records Related to Underage Possession or Consumption of Alcohol or Marijuana (MIP)” (8/14)
  • JDF 313 – “Petition to Seal Records Related to Underage Possession and Consumption of Underage Alcohol or Marijuana (MIP)” (8/14)
  • JDF 314 – “Order Regarding the Sealing of Records Related to Underage Possession or Consumption of Alcohol or Marijuana (MIP)” (8/14)
  • JDF 416 – “Instructions to File a Petition to Seal Arrest & Criminal Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 417 – “Petition to Seal Arrest & Criminal Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 418 – “Order to Seal Arrest & Criminal Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 419 – “Order and Notice of Hearing (Sealing of Records)” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 435 – “Order Denying Petition to Seal Arrest & Criminal Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 611 – “Instructions to Seal Criminal Conviction Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 612 – “Petition to Seal Criminal Conviction Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 613 – “Order Denying Petition to Seal” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 614 – “Order and Notice of Hearing” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 615 – “Order to Seal Criminal Conviction Records” (revised 8/14)
  • JDF 617 – “Certificate of Mailing (Sealing and Conviction Actions)” (revised 8/14)


  • JDF 295W – “Standardized Instructions for all Colorado Water Court Divisions” (revised 8/14)

For all of State Judicial’s forms, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Court’s Combination of Sentencing Options Produced Illegal Sentence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.S.R. on Thursday, July 31, 2014.

Illegal Sentence—Juvenile.

J.S.R. was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent in two previous cases and had two new delinquency cases pending against him. He entered into a plea agreement wherein he pleaded guilty to one count of felony menacing and one count of possession of a handgun by a juvenile in exchange for dismissal of the remaining two counts and the other pending case. Sentencing was left to the court’s discretion.

The court accepted the plea, adjudicated J.S.R. (then 17 years old) a juvenile delinquent as a mandatory sentence offender, and sentenced him to the Department of Youth Corrections (DYC) for a determinate one-year mandatory minimum term of commitment and a mandatory parole period. The court ordered one year of probation immediately following his release from the DYC and advised him that, because he would be 18 upon his release, he would be subject to a county jail sentence if he did not comply with probation.

J.S.R. completed his term of commitment and began serving his probationary term in February 2013. In June and July 2013, the probation department filed petitions to modify or revoke J.S.R.’s probation, which resulted in his arrest. J.S.R then filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, alleging the probationary term was illegal. The district court denied the motion.

The Court of Appeals firstinterpreted a court’s authority to impose a combination of sentencing options under CRS § 19-2-907. The Court concluded that CRS §§ 19-2-907 and -908(1)(a) can be harmonized and applied together; however, here, the district court erred in the combination that it chose, thereby imposing an illegal sentence.

The Court noted that, in general, probation is an alternative sentence to commitment. A prison sentence is generally punitive, and probation is intended to be rehabilitative. CRS §§ 19-2-907 and -925(1)(b) allow a combined sentence of commitment and probation, but only if the term of commitment is limited to no more than forty-five days. Because J.S.R.’s sentence was a combined sentence of commitment and probation, and the period of commitment exceeded the forty-five day maximum, the sentencing court exceeded its statutory sentencing authority and that the sentence was illegal. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to resentence J.S.R. to a determinate one-year mandatory minimum commitment to the DYC, nunc pro tunc to the original date of sentencing, and to correct the mittimus accordingly.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: ALJ’s Opinions Unsupported by Sufficient Evidentiary Findings

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Knight v. Colvin on June 24, 2014 as an unpublished opinion. On July 30, 2014, the Tenth Circuit granted the parties’ Unopposed Motion to Publish and reformatted the opinion as a published opinion.

Dawn Knight applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for her daughter, P.K., in April 2007, claiming that her daughter suffered hearing loss, a learning disability, ADHD, and “temper.” In July 2007, Dr. David LaCourt evaluated P.K. for the New Mexico Disability Determination Services Unit. He reported that she was taking Dextroamphetamine for her ADHD, had written a self-harming note recently, and was reading at a second-grade level even though she was in fourth grade at the time of the examination. P.K.’s third and fourth grade teachers filled out functional assessment questionnaires and indicated that P.K. had serious problems acquiring and using information. In September 2009, P.K.’s fifth grade teacher filled out a similar questionnaire, noting the same problems with acquiring and using information and also detailing P.K.’s aggressive behavior on the playground.

Dr. E.B. Hall managed P.K.’s medication regimen from 2007 through 2010. His notes reflected behavioral problems including threatening a sibling with a knife, hearing voices, hitting another child in the face, mood swings, and failure to take her medication. He also noted, however, that P.K. was getting good grades at school.

In March 2010, P.K. was evaluated at Hogares, a mental health evaluation and treatment center for children. There, she told the therapist that she often thinks about killing herself, that she hears voices and thinks people are talking about her when they are not, and that she feels like nothing is ever going to get better for her. The therapist diagnosed P.K. with ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, and adjustment disorder with anxiety. The therapist noted that P.K. was doing poorly in school, apparently due to her mental health problems.

In June 2010, Knight and P.K. appeared before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Both P.K. and Knight testified as to P.K.’s behavior, performance in school, and medications. The ALJ found that P.K. suffered from hearing loss, a reading disorder, and ADHD, but concluded that none of these impairments medically or functionally equalled an impairment listed in the regulations. He rejected Dr. Hall’s opinions and those of the Hogares therapist, concluding they were only credible insofar as they supported a finding that P.K. was not disabled.

Knight sought review from the Appeals Council and submitted additional therapy notes from Hogares to evidence that P.K. inconsistently takes her medication and that one of the goals of therapy was to stop P.K. from talking about harming herself and others. Knight also reported that they were being kicked out of their housing arrangement because P.K. had broken a window and punched a hole in the wall. The Appeals Council denied review. Knight then appealed to the district court. The district court adopted a magistrate judge’s recommendation that the petition be denied. Knight then appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit’s review was limited to whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the agency’s factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. First, the Tenth Circuit addressed Knight’s contention that the ALJ improperly discounted her credibility, Dr. Hall’s opinions, and the functional equivalency of P.K.’s impairments. The Tenth Circuit found that the ALJ dismissed Knight’s testimony without making necessary credibility determinations. The ALJ referred to credibility only generically, saying that statements were only credible to the extent they supported a finding that P.K. was not disabled. There was no record whether his statements applied to Knight, P.K., or both. There was also no record of what evidence, if any, belied Knight’s or P.K.’s testimony. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for a proper credibility determination.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned to Knight’s challenge to the ALJ’s determination that P.K. has only a marked limitation in interacting and relating with others. Knight argued that the ALJ improperly diminished the importance of Dr. Hall’s opinion, which characterized P.K.’s limitation as extreme. The Tenth Circuit was unable to tell if the evidence was sufficient to discredit Dr. Hall’s opinion, since the ALJ did not adequately link evidence to its vague reasoning discounting Dr. Hall’s opinion. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for sufficient findings on this issue as well.

Knight next contended that the ALJ improperly determined that P.K. has less than a marked limitation in the domain of caring for herself. Focusing on the child’s “personal needs, health, and safety,” the Tenth Circuit found adequate references in the record to P.K.’s suicidal ideation and refusal to take medication. The Tenth Circuit found the ALJ’s determination “devoid of support” in the record and remanded for determination of the severity of P.K.’s impairment. The Tenth Circuit also addressed additional findings that would be needed on remand and directed the ALJ to reevaluate P.K.’s functioning in all domains.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded so that the district court could remand to the proper agency for further findings consistent with the Tenth Circuit’s opinion.

Fostering Success Legal Clinic — Why MVL is Addressing the Needs of Foster Kids!

By Peggy Hoyt-Hock, MVL Board Member

Foster Children. . . What comes to mind when you read this term? When I think of foster children, I tend to visualize something out of Oliver Twist . . . a group of young kids, hanging together, with little supervision. Then of course, I think of Jane Eyre, Annie or Harry Potter. Upon further reflection, I recall a few friends and acquaintances,who have on occasion mentioned that when young, they were fostered until perhaps being adopted or otherwise growing into successful, professional adults.

Then, consider this statistic: In the US, just over 30 percent of typical kids obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 25. When compared to children from the foster care system this number drops to two percent! Until writing this blog, I was unaware of the gap; honestly never giving the topic much thought. This difference presents just one example of the significant challenges children who age-out of the foster system must face.

The phone call came out of the blue. A professional young attorney, in fact an MVL Rovira Scholar introduced herself. “I am calling to ask you to serve as a volunteer for the first MVL Fostering Success Legal Clinic in July.” I asked her to tell me more about it. In the course of our conversation, I confirmed my commitment and discovered that Leeah Lechuga had direct personal experience with the foster care system.

If time would allow, we would both place individual calls to each good hearted attorney we know asking them to volunteer for this new Fostering Success Legal Clinic. Since neither of us have time, we are publishing this blog.

MVL has been fortunate to have had our recent Rovira Scholar, Leeah Lechuga. She reached out to share some of the challenges faced by an individual who ages-out of the foster care system. Leeah is a young and dynamic Colorado attorney, who recently left MVL for a Clerkship in the 18th Judicial District. If you happen to see her there, please join us in thanking her for arranging to have MVL partner with others to establish the new MVL“Fostering Success Legal Clinic.”

Snippets of the interview follow:

Peg, Q: You have personal experience with having to navigate the system. Can you share what it was like?

Leeah, A: My experience with my only out-of-home placement was wonderful. My foster parents made my experience with the system transformative.

It was the other systems that were difficult, after I aged out — student financial aid, finding an apartment, buying a car — I felt lost and incompetent constantly. I also felt lost in other ways, particularly recognizing the value in healthy relationships and building a healthy community. That is so important, but it took me a long time to get here.

Peg, Q: What can you tell the attorneys who read this blog, and may consider volunteering for this clinic — particularly those who may not have volunteered with MVL before — with regard to specific knowledge, skills, or experience they need?

Leeah, A: Attorneys, your willingness to be there is the biggest thing.

It is followed closely by a willingness to be an open book. Most of the legal issues won’t be complex. But you never know what seemingly trivial answer will unlock a whole new level of understanding and way of thinking for these young people. Something you say may connect with something that was said or overheard in a previous encounter. You can be transformative.

If you have not signed up to help with this clinic yet, please do so now. Let’s see how many lives the “Fostering Success Legal Clinic” can help transform over time! If you are interested, please contact

This article originally appeared on the MVL blog on July 3, 2014.

Colorado Supreme Court: Juvenile’s Statements Made Voluntarily and Not While in Custody

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. N.A.S. on Monday, June 30, 2014.

Juvenile Custody Under Miranda—Voluntariness and Coercion.

In this interlocutory appeal, the People sought review of the trial court’s order suppressing statements of the juvenile defendant. The trial court found that defendant was in custody when he made the statements; that he did not waive his Miranda rights knowingly, voluntarily, or intelligently; and that the statements were involuntary.

The Supreme Court held that, in light of the totality of the circumstances, defendant was not in custody when he made the statements, and he spoke voluntarily. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary and full case available here.