About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, September 18, 2014

PJ Baratta Proposes Sweeping Reform of Custody Court

PJ Stephen Baratta in street clothes, with Court Admin Jill Cicero
Custody disputes tend to bring out the worst in people. Children are pawns in battles between parents that often have nothing to do with them. Lawyers, who are trained to be adversarial, can sometimes make a bad situation worse. Cases that should take four to six months, often last a year or more. President Judge Stephen Baratta would like to improve Custody Court to make it more efficient, quicker and more likely to result in the correct result. Moreover, his plan will actually save taxpayers money. Needless to say, it sailed through County Council's Personnel Committee last night. His plan also has the support of County Executive John Brown, and will likely be approved by County Council tonight.

Back in the early '80s, there was just one custody master, Harry C.J. Blair. A Master is a lawyer who hears custody disputes and then makes a recommendation to the Court. Though people waited three hours or more to get in front of him, Blair resolved 95% of the cases he heard. But that was "a different day and age," noted Judge Baratta.

There have been changes in custody law and proceedings are much more adversarial. Only about 45% of them settle at the master's level because the process has become an "attorney-driven" instead of a "court-driven" exercise. Matters that do eventually settle, for the most part, are placed on non jury trial lists, but only when the attorney is ready to do so.

Instead of one part-time custody master, there are now three. In addition, two former judges who are beyond Senior Judge status listen to some of these cases.

"These matters are languishing far too long," complained the President Judge. He wants to get the judges more involved in the process. So he is proposing the elimination of all the part-time custody masters. They will be replaced by one full-time custody master who will ensure that the process is once again driven towards mediation and resolution, as opposed to an adversarial process. In addition, President Judge Baratta and Senior Judge Leonard Zito will ride herd, with the goal being a resolution in four to six months.

This will save taxpayers $45,000 per year, Court Administrator Jill Cicero told Council.

What do you say to a guy who tells you he wants to do things better and can save you money at the same time?

Thank you.

That's pretty much what Council's Personnel Committee did last night.


Anonymous said...

Lehigh County got rid of juvenile detention. Wouldn't that save us money if Norco did as well?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It would, but your comment is unclear. I could read that to mean there is no juvenile delinquency in Lehigh. I would like to know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

They closed their juvenile detention center.


Bernie O'Hare said...

That means LC finds it is cheaper to pay other counties to house delinquents. That is true of several counties. Northampton County has been a beneficiary of that thinking because it has been one of the housing facilities. Northampton built a new juvenile justice center. It makes little sense for Lehigh to duplicate that effort. Good for Lehigh.

Anonymous said...

They closed the Detention center and WE get to take those kids with a fee. we are making money on Lehigh County closing the facility

Bernie O'Hare said...

We make money and LC saves by not having to invest millions into its hjuvenile center. It's a win win. Regionalization.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I don't think either of the comments are even touching on what this articleis about? The judge has not forgot why he went into practice and that is not for the money, but to serve the people that cross his path with justice?

This article is not about juvinile delinquints it is about the make up of what makes a young person such? The domestic confusion subsector of some sort of legal system that is broke and has been for a long time? Some of there people are so clueless to the multifaceted levels of the families they have there part in inhibiting the destruction of the greatest institutional impact of the very children they are there to serve?

In lehighcounty there are two subdivisions of this, one being the monitary part and the other being the coustody part in different locations? This is to hinder in the navigation of the very systemthat was put in place to protect the children?

Too closse this ugly civil matter what does one do when the lines of civil and criminal have crossed?

patent pending