Friday, November 2, 2001
County Commission Urges Supervisors to Fund Courthouse Waiting Rooms for Children
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Dozens of children who now sit for hours a day in the Central Courthouse’s hallways while waiting for their parents to finish their court proceedings would have a safe place to play under a program urged yesterday by a county commission.
The Judicial Procedures Commission voted to request that the Board of Supervisors support a pilot project that would put child care waiting rooms in six courthouses around the county.
If the project is approved, several monitors would supervise each of the waiting rooms, which could hold up to 40 children and feature games, puzzles, games, toys and books.
Compton, Pomona, Central, and Long Beach Courthouses would take part in the first phase of the project because of their willingness to participate and sufficient space to accommodate the project, Commission Vice Chair Carol Rose said.
The Airport and the soon-to-be-opened Lancaster courthouses would follow later.
“This is just a win-win situation,” Commission Chair Neal Millard said. “The courts benefit because the courts don’t like kids running around and it helps the parents by making the court a friendlier place.”
Many parents bring their children to court because they have no other alternative, but then they have to leave their children in the hallways while they attend to their court business, Rose said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Timothy Murphy, who is assigned to family law, said the move is long overdue.
“It’s a nightmare,” Murphy said of the current courthouse situation. “We have kids running all over the place. But quite frankly the court is not a sexy place to spend money.”
Because of the emotional and sometimes graphic nature of the proceedings, Murphy doesn’t allow children in his courtroom, forcing kids out into the hallway for hours, even the entire day in some cases, he said.
“That’s a really long day,” Murphy said.
But even the hallway may not be a safe place for children, Supervisor Don Knabe said.
“The content and material discussed in the halls can be unpleasant and even graphic,” Knabe said. “Why are we not protecting our children from potentially detrimental situations?”
In July the board asked the commission to study how feasible putting child care waiting rooms in courthouses would be. Knabe is expected to introduce the pilot project for approval by the board on Nov. 13.
“We’re not a warm and fuzzy place,” Murphy said. “We could be warm and fuzzier, but we have to try.”
Emma Ardoin knows just how warm and fuzzy the downtown Central Courthouse can be.
Ardoin sat in a second-floor hallway with her four grandchildren for more than seven hours while her husband and their daughter sat in court.
“We have to sit out here because they won’t let the kids in the courtroom,” Ardoin said.
Her three older grandchildren alternate between sprawling out on the hard benches in the hallway and running through the halls throwing paper airplanes.
Having a waiting room where the kids could be entertained would be great, Ardoin said.
“They really need to do something,” she said as her 6-month-old Saporah screams despite her grandmother’s attempts to calm her.
Ten-year-old Shandrea Johnson agrees.
“It’s just really boring,” she said, before asking what time it is for what seems like the hundredth time today.
The Johnson kids are not alone as at least another half a dozen children line the hallways as their parents file for restraining orders or deal with other court matters.
Murphy sometimes sends his bailiff into the hallway to watch the unattended children.
“That’s not fair,” Murphy said. “That’s not right. That’s not his or her job.”
The Central Courthouse currently has a corner in an office on the second floor devoted to children, but it’s filled with mostly broken toys and the room is generally filled with adults waiting for the proceedings and very few children, he said.
“I just hope we do this right,” Murphy said of the project. “There is no reason government can’t be on the cutting edge.”
State codes allow the courts, with the approval of the board, to increase the $194 civil filling fees up to $5, effective Jan. 1.
If the maximum $5 increase is approved it would bring in an estimated $2 million a year which would be used to fund the new childcare waiting rooms, Rose said.
One of the proposed sites for the project, Long Beach Courthouse, has already acquired nearly $1 million to go towards improving their child care waiting rooms.
Proposition 10, the tobacco tax initiative approved in 1998, is providing the courthouse with $300,000 per year for three years to use for child-oriented programs.
Superior Court Spokesman Kyle Christopherson said the Central Courthouse is also looking into funding sources.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company