Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Selling a Theme- Follow-up from Professor Gerdy's PDA presentation

Hello All-

Greetings once again from your Executive Director! For those of you who were able to attend the Appellate Practice Workshop in October, you may remember Professor Gerdy touching on the subject of selling a theme to increase the persuasiveness of the narrative in appellate briefs. An interesting and spirited discussion ensued about whether judges (particularly in Utah, but higher court judges in general) appreciate that kind of emotional appeal or cleverness in a written brief. I recently came across something I thought many of you would find informative and interesting on this same topic.

Since teaching legal writing at the J, Reuban Clark Law School at BYU a few years ago, I've stayed plugged in to the world of legal academia, and developments in legal writing in particular. It is, not so secretly, a passion of mine. One of the ways I stay connected is by following the Facebook page of the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (JALWD). For those unfamiliar with this group, ALWD is a non-profit professional association of directors of legal reasoning, research, writing, analysis, and advocacy programs from law schools throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Professor Gerdy is a past president of ALWD. Their Facebook page is a great way to get a condensed amount of information on a potentially verbose subject. Forcing members to tweet does limit them to 140 characters, after all!

Recently, the JALWD admin posted Justice Sotomayor's dissent on a denial of certiorari for a death penalty case as a stellar example of using emotional framing to strengthen the persuasiveness of the narrative. Contributors noted that the framing was more important than any use of particular words or phrasing, and didn't rely on hyperbole or overblown verbiage to sell an emotional point. For those interested in reading the opinion, it can be found here. It's basically a master class on how to successfully sell an emotional theme within the potentially stilted confines of a legal document. The first two pages is sufficient to get a feel for how Justice Sotomayor accomplishes setting the proper tone, so don't be put off by the page length!

We plan on having Professor Gerdy do a voice-over of the slides she presented and make it available as an online CLE opportunity for those unable to attend, so stay posted for that development. If anyone is interested in the slides without the voice-over, let me know and I will be happy to send them to you.


Kirstin Norman

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PDA of Utah Annual Report Available

Our contract with the State requires that every year, the PDA compile an Annual Report and deliver it to the members of our Oversight Committee. For those of you interested in reading this year's report, you can find it here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Greetings, PDA Members-

I wanted to provide you with a behind-the-scenes look at what your tireless board has been working on for the last few months. The blog has basically been radio silent since my appointment as the new Executive Director of the PDA, but that doesn't mean we haven't been busy! Actually, quite the opposite is true, and the blog meanwhile fell a bit by the wayside, for which I offer sincere apologies.

Firstly, I want thank our exiting Executive Director, Kate Hansen, for making this as seamless a transition as possible. Kate graciously stayed on to train me as her replacement, despite being much in demand in her private practice, and still provides guidance to the PDA as needed. She has been an incredible asset to the PDA for the last three years, and will be very much missed moving forward.

One of the last projects Kate was working on before handing the reins over to me was the Parent Video, a collaborative effort between the PDA and the Court Improvement Program. About a year ago, the Table of Six approved a budget of $10,000 for the production of a parent video project, to be spearheaded by Gabriella Archuleta of the Court Improvement Program and the PDA. After viewing similar videos produced in other jurisdictions, the PDA and the CIP determined that the videos with the most impact were the ones that featured parents telling their own stories and experiences, while offering suggestions on how to navigate the unfamiliar landscape of juvenile court.

After vetting several local production companies, the PDA and CIP hired Storyline Films to produce the parent video project. A basic script was drafted, with input from various members of the PDA, which was then circulated through the juvenile court judges for their input. The video was shot in July, with participants from every agency in the child welfare community providing cast members and support.
Judge Bazzelle was selected by the juvenile court judges to participate in the video. Her background in broadcast journalism quickly became evident, and made for some great sound bites.

Andy Weibe and his crew were incredible to work with. The quality of the footage they were able to capture was extraordinary.

Grant Dickinson represented parental defense attorneys in the video. He did a fantastic job, even if his demands for a personal trailer were a little high-handed.

The first day of filming was done at the Matheson Court House, and the second day was completed at the new DCFS building in Sandy. We had three parent volunteers share their stories of perseverance and ultimate success for the video: Christianna Dees, Dusty Pyper, and Stephanie Garff. These women were incredible. Their stories were vulnerable, eloquent, and uplifting by turns, and they truly provided the heart and soul of the video.

A near-final draft of the video was debuted at the recent Court Improvement Summit, which many of you attended. It was incredibly frustrating, but the video was not able to be shown in its entirety due to internet issues with the venue. However, the final video will be completed by the end of September. At that point, the PDA will host it on its YouTube chanel, and provide a link to all of you. You will be able to share that link with your clients, who will be able to watch and re-watch the video whenever they wish to do so. We hope it will be a useful tool for all of you in your practice of parental defense.

As those of you who attended the CIP Summit may have noticed, PDA members presented on multiple topics, and were very well-received by their peers in the child welfare community. Neil Skousen and Brent Hall yet again presented on application of the ADA in child welfare cases, and they were by far one of the most popular break-out sessions of the Summit. Also, PDA members Erin Hill, Jason Richards, Ron Wilkinson and Josh Wilkinson presented on a panel concerning post-adoption agreements. Their expertise in a sensitive area of child welfare practice was much appreciated by attendees. 

As a final note, I also wanted to take this opportunity to encourage as many of you as possible to register for our upcoming multi-hour CLE event: the PDA's Appellate Practice Workshop. You can register for the workshop here

As you are all aware, the obstacles parental defenders face on appeal are daunting, and can seem insurmountable at times. At this event, participants will have the unique opportunity to pick the brain of Judge Christiansen of Utah Court of Appeals, as well as that of the Clerk of Court, Lisa Collins, for insight as to how we can be more effective, and ultimately, successful in our appellate attempts. There are also still plenty of spots open for anyone wishing to field a couple of moot type questions from Judge Christiansen to sharpen their oral appellate skills. Please email me if you're interested in that opportunity.  Further, Professor Kristin Gerdy, Director of the Rex E. Lee Advocacy Program at BYU, and mentor to BYU's traveling moot court team, will also be providing insight on how to make appellate briefs more persuasive on multiple levels. We have received so much support and enthusiasm from the staff of the Court of Appeals for this event; I truly believe they want to help us be more successful in our appellate practice. In fact, they have mentioned an interest in potentially making this a yearly-opportunity if sufficient interest is garnered at this event. Imagine what kind of useful tactical information we could accrue with that kind of ongoing input from the Court of Appeals! I'm certain that all of us could glean something useful from this CLE event. I look forward to seeing those of you who are already registered, and hope to see many more of you still. 

As always, don't hesitate to reach out to me or any of the other board members if you have any questions, concerns, or updates of which the PDA should be aware.  


Kirstin Norman
Executive Director of the Parental Defense Alliance of Utah

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The PDA has a new Executive Director!

The Parental Defense Alliance of Utah is pleased to announce that it has hired a new Executive Director.  Kirstin Norman received a J.D. from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU in 2009 and following law school clerked for Commissioner Patton in the 4th District.  She has also practiced in family law and juvenile court in Utah County.

You might recognize Kirstin as she has assisted the PDA with its annual conferences and other projects.  We are delighted that she has joined us in our mission to provide support and assistance to the parental defense attorneys of Utah.  Welcome Kirstin!

Kirstin can be reached at and 801-610-9127.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Congratulations to this year's award winners!

We are pleased to announce this years PDA award recipients.  These individuals represent what is best in parental defense and we are proud to recognize them.

Liza Jones
New Parental Defender

Jason Richards
Trial Attorney of the Year

Jacqueline Jensen
Appellate Advocate of the Year

Don Redd
Lifetime Achievement, Attorney of the Year

Loreli Riley
Special Service

Monday, May 2, 2016

The PDA Is Looking for a New Executive Director

Following the resignation of Kate Hansen, the PDA is looking for a new Executive Director.  Applications will be accepted until May 15, 2016.  Please send a resume with a cover letter to

Below is a link to the job description.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bill of Rights for Parents Investigated by the Child Welfare System

Rise, an organization that works with parents to write and share their experiences with the child welfare system, has created a Bill of Rights for parents.  They also have a pamphlet called "From Rights to Reality: A plan for parent advocacy and family-centered child welfare reform."  You can get a copy of the pdf HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Now Accepting Nominations for Annual PDA Awards

It is that time of year again!  We are now accepting nominations for parental defense attorneys who have done an exceptional job.  We hope you will nominate those attorneys who have made remarkable contributions and efforts this year.

The categories for the awards are:
  • Best New Parental Defender (for those with less than three years in parental defense)
  • Excellence in Trial Advocacy
  • Excellence in Appellate Advocacy
  • Lifetime Achievement
  • Special Awards (for unique contributions)

There are two ways you can make your nominations:

1.  Through our website by using the following link HERE.

2.  By printing the form, found HERE, and submitting via fax or email to Grant Dickinson.

Please make all submissions by 5 p.m. on April 14, 2016.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ICWA: Designated Tribal Agents for Service of Notice

The Federal Register has published a document that has all of the designated Tribal agents for service of notice.  You can find a copy of the documents HERE.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Registration is OPEN for the Annual Conference of the Parental Defense Alliance of Utah

The PDA invites you to register for the Annual Conference of the Parental Defense Alliance of Utah which will be held on April 28-29, 2016.

This is a two day conference is created to train practitioners who represent parents in Utah's Juvenile Courts.  This year you will find a variety of topics covered, including:
  • Parental Fitness Evaluations
  • Drug Testing
  • Ethics: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
  • The Office of Services Review
  • Case law Update
  • Legislative Update
  • Professionalism and Civility
The final agenda is pending and will be available prior to the conference.  11.5 hours of CLE credit will be requested from the Utah State Bar.


Thursday, April 28, 2016 7:30am until Friday, April 29, 2016 at 1:00pm.  This year we will have the same amount of CLE available, but are putting more sessions on the first day so that we will be done after lunch on the second day.

Registration is currently available by clicking on the link above or going to:

Registration will close on April 15, 2016, but you should register soon to ensure hotel availability.


The cost of the conference this year will be $150.  For those attorneys who have a defense contract with their county (including conflict contracts), a $50 discount is available.  Please contact your board representative to get your code.

Judicial Districts
Board Member Representative
Contact Email
1 and 2
Carol Mortensen
Jim Smith
Grant Dickinson
5 and 6
David Boyer
7 and 8
Mark Tanner

For those who wish to pay with a check rather than a credit card, please contact me for a code and I will send you an invoice.


We will be staying at the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah.  You do not need to contact the resort to reserve a room.  Please do so through your registration.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - If you travel more that 50 Miles to the conference you may reserve a Wednesday night room for free with the code 50MILES.

Thursday, April 28, 2016 - All participants are welcome to reserve a Thursday night room with their registration.

Friday, April 29, 2016 - For those who wish to stay an extra night, Friday night rooms are available for a discounted rate of $100.  These may be reserved and paid for through your registration.


Meals are included in your registration.  However if you have a guest coming with you to the conference who would like to join you for meals, you may sign up for those as part of the registration.

New this year there is a place to indicate if you have any special dietary needs such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten free or other.


If you have any questions regarding the conference please contact your board member representative or you can email me at or call at 801-834-7646.

We look forward to seeing you all in April!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Homelessness as a Basis of Removal

Many states, including Utah, have a statute that prevents children from being removed based upon reasons of poverty alone.

In the absence of one of the factors described in Subsection (1), a court may not remove a child from the parent's or guardian's custody on the basis of:
(a) educational neglect, truancy, or failure to comply with a court order to attend school;
(b) mental illness or poverty of the parent or guardian; or
(c) disability of the parent or guardian, as defined in Section 57-21-2.

Lack of adequate housing and homelessness, however, are often entangled with the reasons for removal.

There are resources available including the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare:

Follow THIS LINK to for a copy of a slide show presentation that was made at the Nation Parent Attorney Conference in 2015.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

National Drug Court Online Learning System

The Center for Court Innovation has announced the availability of new training resources on the National Drug Court Online Learning System:

In partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Center has developed a series of interviews with juvenile drug court practitioners that focus on their roles within a juvenile drug court team. These interviews are particularly relevant for new practitioners and cover the following roles:
  • Judge
  • Prosecutor
  • Public Defender
  • Probation Officer
  • Program Coordinator
  • Treatment Provider
  • Educational Liaison
The Center has also developed new expert presentations for adult drug courts, including lessons on:
  • Role of the Prosecutor
  • Role of the Public Defender
  • Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Drug Court
Find the new material, as well as other valuable training resources, at