Monday, November 24, 2008
Van Nuys Courthouse Opens Children’s Waiting Room
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Four-year old Melanie Sanchez and her brother Justin, 3, asked to come to the Van Nuys Courthouse, their mother, Susana Sanchez, said, as the toddlers eagerly dodged past bailiffs, attorneys and members of the public, heading towards a small room at the end of a hallway to the right of the building’s entrance.
The room—106A—now houses a waiting room staffed by professional child caregivers for children whose parents have court business to conduct, and on Thursday Melanie and Justin Sanchez settled in at a pint-sized table with a box of crayons, oblivious to the grand opening celebration happening around them.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaraslovsky said that “it’s taken longer than it takes for an elephant to gestate…, maybe several generations of elephants, but we got it done,” acknowledging the eight years of effort by his office, the Los Angeles Superior Court, and the San Fernando Valley Legal Foundation to raise the funds to construct the waiting room.
Foundation President Stephen T. Holzer of Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan explained that the main cause for delay, and the biggest expense, was the construction of a small restroom within the waiting room so children would not have to use the public restroom near the lobby.
“It is an enormous amount of money to build a bathroom,” he remarked.
Holzer said the foundation donated $50,000 it raised during a fundraising gala in June, and that the organization will hold another gala in May 2010 to raise money to build another children’s waiting room at the San Fernando courthouse.
“We hope though this is the first, it won’t be the last,” he added.
Beaming, Justice Sandy Kriegler of Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal, and a former supervising judge of the Van Nuys courthouse, said that the room—which Yaraslovsky called the justice’s “baby”—had “came out perfect,” and was “something the court can really be proud of.”
He said that courts “are supposed to be places where the public is welcome,” and that having a “nice, clean, safe, well-equipped facility where parents can really be comfortable their children are well attended” would “be a real benefit” for the court and for families with court business.
Superior Court Commissioner Alan Friedenthal joked that he “drop-kicked” the idea of building the waiting room into becoming a reality.
Friedenthal recalled having seen many children with no place to go while their parents were in court when he was presiding as an as-needed referee in the courthouse in 2000, and said that he had approached Kriegler, then supervising judge, and suggested the courthouse emulate the Antelope Valley, Stanley Mosk, Long Beach, Compton and Santa Monica courthouses by building a children’s waiting room.
After Kriegler “gave it the green light,” Friedenthal said, he approached the foundation for support, and eventually “everything fell into place.”
The commissioner also suggested that the other courthouses which all have family law departments all need similar waiting rooms.
“I’m working on San Fernando,” he said, “then I’ll conquer the rest.”
The children’s waiting room is open daily, except court holidays, from 8 a.m. until noon, and from 1:15 until 4:30 for toilet-trained children aged two and a half to 12.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company