Monday, March 17, 2014
Spotlight: Angela Fonnesbeck
I currently serve as a conflict public defender in the First District Juvenile Court.
I love being a parental defender because it gives me the opportunity to help educate people. I feel that when I can help people understand both the Court system and the child welfare process I give them a fighting chance. I truly believe that knowledge is power. My experience is that folks attend a Court hearing or talk with a case worker and hear all the words that are being said, but walk out of the room with little understanding of what it all meant or what is expected of them. While I cannot make choices for my clients, I can at least give them the tools to navigate a system that is complex and confusing.
I think it is rare for a parental defender to walk out of a Court room and feel like they have “won” a victory. But when the Utah Court of Appeals issued its decision in In re: B.R. I felt like I had at least given my client, and all parents, hope. While ultimately the Utah Supreme Court overturned the appellate decision – perhaps making appeals more difficult for all of us – in this case mom was able to successfully reunite with one of her children, and have an arm’s length relationship with the others. Every few years I hear from Mom who tells me all is going well.
There are lots of tips and trick out there but I found that one of the best things for me is to check in with my clients regularly, rather than waiting for a call from them. Sometimes it is just a phone call from my assistant asking for an update. Other times I ask the client to meet with me in person. This keeps me informed. It provides the opportunity to help a client overcome an obstacle before it becomes a problem pointed out to the Judge, or allows me to gather information to ensure that Judge knows about all the positive things going on with my client. While it varies from case to case, I try to never go more than two weeks without a contact with a client. I have discovered that being proactive with my client from the very beginning helps both of us stay on track.