Sunday, November 30, 2008

What are you reading?

I'm the kind of reader who fixes on an author and then tracks down everything written by him. Usually it's a him. I snap up everything by Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park, Red Star) and Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe's Eagle) and even discovered Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose) after he died. When I go to a bookstore I will often go to the fiction section and scan the author's alphabetically for familiar and favorite names.

Currently I'm in the Ivan Doig (Ride With Me Mariah Montana, Dancing at the Rascal Fair) fan club and I'm almost out of books to read. Doig lives in Seattle, but grew up in Montana in the 1940s and 1950s where his father was a ranch hand and sheep rancher. One afternoon as a teen ager, while helping his father and grandmother save two thousand sheep from themselves ahead of a sudden rainstorm, Doig came to the realization that days of endless work for little money was not for him. He went off to college and then grad school at the University of Washington. In 1968, he was my teaching assistant for Washington State History, but that's not why I like his writing.

Doig invented a fictitous community of Scot immigrants who homesteaded the prairie in the 1890s and most of his books follow the members and their descendants through the 1980s. Besides being very entertaining tales of the West and how people are the same no matter what their environment or era, his stories really speak to me.

My grandparents and great grandparents homesteaded Montana some distance east of Doig's Two Medicine country, but the experience was the same. (That's my grandmother with my two uncles in front of the sod house in about 1919.) Frank and Elsie laid claim to some land on the Milk river in hopes of finding a measure of prosperity and freedom only to learn that the measure of prosperity was very small and the measure of work very large. Within a year of that photo the Wilmas proved up their claim and sold out to move further west to Washington. Most of the other homesteaders of the 1910s moved on as well having been lured to Montana by stories of bumper crops of vegetables. Only the 1910s were unusually wet and then the rains stopped. Doig tells the story of my grandparents.

A frequent description is of the abandoned homestead, silent testimony to some family's admission that Montana was not for everyone.But Doig doesn't stop speaking to me there. He also writes about working and growing up on the farm, or the ranch, or just "the place." That was my dad's life for more than ten years and although we did not live on a place, I was privileged to witness him wrestle with dim-minded sheep, nut and brand cattle, tractor a field with a D-4 Cat, and to listen to him jaw with other farmers about low prices, high water, scissorbills, and yay-hoos. In one particularly memorable (for me) scene, Doig's camp tender (the guy who rode up into the mountains to take summer sheepherders their weekly supplies) used a fork to cook a flawless fried egg over a campfire in a cast-iron skillet. My dad could do that.

So, I am reading Ivan Doig, slowly, carefully. When I finish this book I will have just one more, then I will have to start over or find a new favorite author.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Big Apple

Every year, two so far, Lorraine joins the staff at in welcoming contestants for the Boost Your Business award of $100,000. Entrepreneurs compete online and in person to convince venture capitalists that they would make the best use of the award. Lorraine's job is to work with each of the five finalists the day before to polish up their pitches. I get to tag along to offer my perspective and to help her enjoy a few days in New York. If you watch the video you will see our cameos. Look at the end for some glowing words about Lorraine. You can also look at each of the contestants' pitches and even vote for your favorite. I thought the Honey Wear people had the best pitch.

We went a few days early and found ourselves in the middle of the annual New York City Columbus Day Parade complete with marching cops and firemen, musical floats, politicians, and high school drum and bugle units. Not just New Yorkers participate. There were police officers and sailors from Italy. and lots of Italian cops from New Jersey. One county even sent its jury transport bus to be in the parade (in New Jersey jury security is very important and they are proud of their measures). We were at the very beginning of the parade so we got to see the various parade personalities in their ceremonial sashes interact. Here is my slide show of the parade, or at least the beginning. I got a kick out of the fact that even the sanitation workers have a dress uniform, green of course.

The hilarious thing about the Columbus Day Parade is that despite the fact that it is in The Big Apple, there is a decided small town feel to the floats and the marching units. Even the Teachers of Italian have an entry. I spotted one news crew doing its location standup in Italian, obviously for an audience in Italy.

I got to see my first Broadway show, the musical Mama Mia. I remarked to myself that these singers and dancers were pretty good, but wait, this is Broadway! I thoroughly enjoyed the experience although I have yet to go buy any Abba albums. To demonstrate the crossroads of the world that New York is, the couple next to us was French, the people behind us were Italian, the ones in front were German, and the ones in front of them were Swedish.

To show how New York has improved over its reputation we walked back to our apartment from the theater. The streets were well lit and we felt entirely safe. We stayed in a condo on 10th Avenue in the neighborhood once known as Hell's Kitchen. We rented the condo by the night from a connection Lorraine has.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


July 14, 2008
I was recently nominated to be a member of the Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability Review Board. This is a seven member panel of citizens which oversees the office that investigates allegations of police misconduct and the discipline system. (That's me, lower right, at the police academy in 1970, not the new board.) This is actually the second iteration of this board which, for seven years, consisted of three members. Complaints about the structure and authority of the oversight system led to two different evaluation committees in 2007. The new setup was signed off by the mayor and the police officers guild, and now the city council will enact legislation to implement the changes. One change is expanding the board from three to seven members.

I had seen in the newspaper that the city was looking for people with a law enforcement background. That was me. And I needed a new intellectual challenge. This seems to be a good fit. Of course there will be meetings, lots of them.

We won't be reviewing individual investigations, but will be monitoring the whole process, conducting community outreach, and keeping up with other developments in the field of police accountability.

August 12, 2008
The City Council confirmed my appointment last night. Here is my testimony before the Public Safety Committee of the Seattle City Council a week ago.

November 1, 2008
The review board job is slow to get off the ground. We have had just one meeting and most of it was taken up with training on how to conduct meetings, how not to have meetings (too many emails can be a meeting), how to preserve records, and how to talk to the press (try not to). With seven accomplished and busy people, just finding times when we can all meet proved the biggest challenge. We want to have two meetings a month, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to allow for public participation. When we finally came up with one good date, I will be out of town. But I pledged to call it in (which we can do) from Oregon.

The other aspect of the job has been training. I participated in sessions for the officers who staff the internal investigations section, for lawyers wanting to help mediate complaints, and, every Thursday evening, the community police academy.

On top of all that the city council sent me to Cincinnati for five days for the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement conference. Folks from all over the nation and several foreign countries gathered to share information on structure, trends, problems, and accomplishments. Being so new to the job I had little to offer.

But I learned many things including the unique issues of domestic violence by police officers (far greater than with the general population), the tightening standards for officer dishonesty, and the extent to which civilian oversight bodies have reduced the number and types of complaints.

One thing that gets a lot of play in the press is racial profiling, the idea of targeting police services based on race. When I was a DEA agent in the 1970s we did racial profiling as we looked for drug couriers at the airport. The process was even written down. In the 21st Century this is frowned upon (profiling, not writing things down).

The problem is that, absent some spoken slur, it is nearly impossible to demonstrate a racial element in police interactions with the public. In hundreds of racial profiling complaints against the LAPD perhaps three could be tagged as having a racist element.

Instead, the presenters said, we should be looking at the constitutionality of the stops themselves. If an officer stops a SUV with heavily tinted windows at night in a high crime area for a tail light infraction, why did the occupants spend half an hour seated on the curb in handcuffs? Some issues just require a new approach and, of course, more training.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dead Relatives

I have always been interested in history and in the history of my family. My maternal grandmother, Pebble Flood, commissioned some family history research in the 1920s to support her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. That research floated around the family for seventy or eighty years. In about 1990, my father's older brother wrote an autobiography which included some interesting tidbits about the Wilmas and the Dorns.

With this information to build on I started compiling a family tree. I read books and took classes and was fortunate enough to live in San Francisco where there were a couple of excellent genealogy libraries. The personal computer helped in keeping track of it all as I collected over three thousand names and relationships. I even added research on my wife's family, mostly Irish from New York and San Francisco. I discovered that Lorraine's Irish grandmother was born Jewish.

After a couple of years reading, taking notes, and lots of postage (no email then) I managed to put together a pretty reliable family history back as far as Rollo, the Norse raider who set himself up as the Duke of Normandy. One of his descendants conquered England. I posted all this on the web and it attracts inquiries from distant cousins, some of whom can add to the story.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Adoption Day

At the King County Courthouse most of the product is heartbreak. People come there to be convicted and sentenced and to sue and be sued. Even the winners leave having paid a great cost for the chance of justice. Plaintiffs, defendants, jurors, and witnesses queue up at the screening tables all wishing they were somewhere else. Lawyers carrying thick file folders wear their officious faces and speak with contrived authority. Courthouse workers greet each other and speak of weekends and food oblivious to the pain around them.

The idea of making new families is completely out of character there. The tiny courtroom sits on the third floor with a view of Third Avenue and the Pioneer Square area. A glass wall separates it from a waiting area where happy, nervous people and fidgety babies and children laugh and chat. One at a time the families file into the courtroom while the people in the waiting room watch through the glass hoping to learn something of what would happen to them. A chalkboard next to the window helps distract the kids as they wait for their case to be called.

Robbie and Meranda's prospective mom and dad had lost out on adopting another child before and they were pretty nervous that this adoption might not go through. Every phone call and voice mail message threatened disaster and sadness, but all the news was good and 9:00 a.m. finally rolled around.. A couple of aunts were there (when we describe relatives, we always use their relationship with the children) along with the family minister. With me and the social worker we are quite a crowd. Meranda wore a nice maroon velvet jumper and Robbie's necktie might have looked better with another shirt, but he was more than presentable.

Then our case is called we file into the courtroom where a white haired judge greets everyone. One aunt lines up behind the judge to catch a video of the proceedings.The lawyer hired by the parents announces his business and the judge asks for everyone to introduce themselves, even us spectators. I rise and state, "I am the children's CASA. I have been with them five-and-a-half years." The judge also asks the kids if they are good with being adopted and they both nod. He even asks them their new name which they manage to recite.

After pronouncing the children adopted, the judge invites the parties around to his side of the bench where everyone poses for snapshots. Within a total of about seven minutes the process is done and we relinquish the court to a couple carrying an infant and more happy relatives.

The new mom fights back tears as do I. I have represented these kids since Meranda was an infant and so neglected she could not hold up her head. They experienced three other prospective sets of parents until Tom and Janet were able to come through and the best home for them. Amazingly enough the kids do not exhibit any special needs and have every prospect for a normal happy life ahead of them.

My job being done, I gave Meranda and her mom hugs and went about my day.

I have one other case that has lasted nearly as long as Robbie and Meranda's, but that one is steering towards a return home, another happy ending.


Click here to see how Lorraine and I spend our vacations.
Click to see our albums of Normandy, Brittany, and Paris.

The shot at the right is us, off our bicycles, near Mt. St. Michelle in Brittany in 2006. This old monestary is the number one tourist destination in France, maybe Europe. What you don't see is the wind that comes up from the English Channel every afternoon.
In 2007 we cycled through Southern Vermont. What you might see are the many hills. We also spent time in Burlington.

Advocating for Children

May 7, 2008

I have a volunteer job that is some job. I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate sometimes called Guardian ad litem or just CASA in the King County Superior Court Juvenile Division. It is my role to investigate, report, monitor, and advocate in cases where kids are removed from the home for neglect and abuse and then report to the court on what is happening and what should be done. The kids have social workers, but the workers' job is to comply with state and federal law and departmental policies and procedures while still trying to restore families. And note that I say social workers. Any case going longer than two years (I have two cases five years old) the kids can get two or three workers. More on The System another time.

I had to go through an application process, provide references, be interviewed, undergo a background check, take twenty-four hours of training (plus twelve more hours every year). All that does is teach you what you don't know.

Then you make a choice from among dozens and dozens of gut-wrenching cases involving drugs, alcohol, insanity, and just plain criminal behavior. I have a leg up on most of the other volunteers. I have a background in investigations so reading reports and case files and interviewing witnesses was a snap. And I have a pretty good ability to keep emotions out of the situation.

What I wasn't prepared for was the mystifying array of social services that come into play when children become dependent. There are psychological evaluations, educational evaluations, drug and alcohol evaluations, domestic violence evaluations, and others I don't remember. And these evaluations trigger services with acronyms like PCIT and TF-CBT. The people who come up with these concepts must be really smart.

The CASA's job is to look over the shoulder of the social workers and their department and see that the kids are getting everything they need. The squeaky wheel does get the grease and CASAs help keep kids from slipping through cracks and help kids stuck in cracks. For it's a big dumb system. I could tell you stories and you probably read about some of them when, tragically, a child dies. In those cases the kids either don't have CASAs or the CASA program is so small as to be ineffective. The latter is the case in most small jurisdictions. Better no advocate than one not doing a good job.

Most dependent children are not in foster homes. Dependent just means they are under state supervision and their parents are ordered by a court to undergo certain services like drug and alcohol treatment. If kids are actually taken out of a home the first stop is usually a relative. Most of my cases have involved a relative placement. Or they are dependent in-home. Only when there are no relatives do kids go to licensed care.

And some kids have problems so profound that an institutional setting is needed. The stories of kids being bounced among foster homes are horrific, but they don't speak of how the child assaulted other children or tried to burn the house down.


What still amazes me after six years as a CASA is the extent to which I can actually influence the outcome in court. Chalk it all up to persistence. Let me set the stage.

Child dependency cases are heard by commissioners, lawyers appointed by the elected judges to handle these kind of routine matters. In many cases the commissioners come out of the ranks of family law practitioners so they have a leg up on the business. Not only do they know the language of social workers and child protection law, but they know the types of people that routinely end up in dependency court. So imagine a judge's bench and the concurrent clerks and courtroom specialists who keep the paper moving only there is one bench for spectators. It's really for the overflow of parties to the case.

Instead of one table for one side and one table for the other there are three tables; one for the State people, one for the parents and their lawyers, and, in the middle, one for the CASA and his lawyer. (Actually most CASAs are women, but this CASA is a man and this is his blog.) So right off the bat this volunteer is given equal status with the other "parties." These cases used to be closed so the courtrooms have little in the way of spectator seating; just chairs or benches along the back wall.

As the cases drag on it is usually only the CASA who can provide any sense of continuity. New social workers and Assistant Attorneys General get assigned, and the public defenders juggle so many cases they have substitutes as often as not. After about a year – most cases go years – the CASA is the only one with any institutional knowledge. It may come as a surprise that this civilian volunteer has all the information that the people who are paid to be there need. I have slipped notes of correction to the AAG who has no clue who these kids are and who is sitting next to a substitute social worker.

The Last Visit

The other evening I visited R and M who I have represented for over five years. M was about six months old then and was "delayed," a child development term meaning she wasn't growing well. She couldn't even hold up her head. Through the inspired help of the staff at Childhaven she got back on track. They are now seven and five.

But through a number of missteps by The System, some unavoidable, the kids did not find permanency until just a few months ago. They moved in with a lovely couple who just wanted to be caring parents. The case is approaching the point where R and M will be adopted which will conclude my involvement with them. A hearing is coming up so I needed to file a report and for that I needed to see how they were doing.

Monday afternoon was lovely and the kids were playing on the front porch. They greeted me with "Hi, Dave" and rushed to show me their bicycles (R just got the training wheels off) and the storage shed their new dad was building for them. The shed is not just for storage. It will include a playhouse in the upper story. M wanted to show me the lovely flowers, but only if I was unafraid of bees. I assured her I was fine.

The judges like to have photos of the kids to go with the reports so I brought along my digital camera. I posed with each of them while the other took some pictures.

Naturally, I visited with the prospective adoptive parents and got a good picture of how they are doing. Both R and M wanted to show me all the family snapshots of the great adventures they had had such as a Pacific beach, motocross races, and just a trip to the park.

The next step for them is adoption and then I will be out of the picture.

Indian Cases

Probably the most complex kinds of cases we see in dependencies are those involving Indian children. Before about thirty years ago, Indian children were commonly adopted off the reservation to non-Indian families. Naturally the tribes took issue with this latest depredation by the United States of their identity and culture.

Congress passed a law which gave the tribes the last word in handling any Indian child who goes into dependency — foster care. A tribe can get involved in the case in almost any way they want, from taking the case entirely away from the state court, to helping, to doing nothing. And if an Indian child is to be adopted, the tribe has final say on where the child goes. Some children have found homes in non-Indian families only to have the tribe come along later and say, no, we want the child with us. The child has no say in the matter other than through an advocate — me.

So the trick in these cases is to find out if a kid is an Indian. Easy to say. There are more than five hundred tribes recognized by the U.S. Government and many more not recognized. There are Canadian first nations which have cultural and political relationships with U.S. tribes and can lay a claim to a child and Native Alaskan community. If someone says the kid has Indian heritage, we have to write letters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and to all the possible tribes and ask if he or she is one of theirs. Some tribes write back and some don't.

Even if we don't hear back from tribes, they can still come into the case and undo everything that has been done. So it is critical to engage these tribes early, if we can.

Some tribes are large with sophisticated governments and large, profitable casinos generating cash to benefit the members. Other tribes are very informal with the barest of structure, very poor, and might only have a post office box for contact. The hardest situations is where a tribe is made up of idividual bands and each band has rights under the law.

I am fortunate with the one Indian case I've had. The kid was clearly a member and the tribe had a large casino (getting bigger) along an interstate. They have a lawyer who attends all proceedings and they have money they shower on services for the kid. Or just shower him with money. But with the growth of Indian gaming some of the tribes are now more reluctant to extend membership to someone with tenuous ties to the reservation.