Tag Archives: Mississippi Courts

Miranda’s Mom — excerpt: Meanwhile, Miranda continues to be invisible. If left up to the powers that be she would remain that way.

Miranda’s Mom

July 2013

Twelve year old Miranda Grace was born August 10, 2000, and was taken November 28, 2011.  Miranda was bright, and beautiful, and remarkably talented.  She was artistic and creative.  Miranda wrote with insight, depth and a clarity that would give Robert Frost pause.  In the 4th grade, Miranda wrote a school paper on Robert Frost.  She wrote in the preface that she picked Robert Frost “because her mom liked him” and, because she liked the title for “road less traveled”, oh, and, because his name reminded her of “Jack Frost and Christmas”.

Miranda loved her Ocean Springs hometown and the simple life she lived there with her mother.  She loved her school, her teachers, and hometown football games on Friday nights.  She loved running the neighborhood at dark.  She really loved the few occasions that she and her friend managed to sneak away and walk to the harbor close to her home in Gulf Park Estates.  Her Mom did not find out about those times till much later, too much later to get on to Miranda.  Too much later to even care that Miranda broke that rule.  Way too much later for her Mom to even care than she broke the rule.  In fact, by the time Miranda’s Mom did find out about those times that Miranda and her friend had sneaked away to walk to the harbor with their fishing poles and cast net, Miranda’s Mom was not angry at Miranda … she was proud.  She cried at the image in her mind and thanked God that Miranda had gotten to do something so innocent, something she loved so much, something her Mom knew she would have never let Miranda do on her own in regular life.  She was glad to know Miranda had a chance to sneak away to the harbor and fish and hangout with a friend on a hot summer afternoon.  Kids don’t get to do things like that much anymore, her Mother thinks to herself, smiling and crying at the memory, picturing Miranda, her long hair flying as she runs, laughing and acting silly, goofing off at the harbor.  Her mom can hear in her mind the sounds of kids laughter and shouts, the sound of the water lapping against the harbor posts and shoreline,  the humming of small engines from the boats out in the distance … all those sounds separate and mixed together to play a melody in her mind.  Smells fade, pictures fade, the little details of people you love fade in your mind and dim more and more over  time, but these daydream memories haven’t faded, yet, and they both play them separately in their heads each passing day as seasons change and as the days and weeks and months just come and go.

Miranda had many friends and loved to comb the beaches, fish, swim, and, more than anything, she loved those frequent backyard gatherings at her own home, the kind that invariably drew friends and neighbors of all ages in to their backyard like fireflies on a Mississippi early summer night.  On these nights, a fire was always started and music was always playing in the background, at a neighbor-friendly pitch of course.  Ensuring plentiful graham crackers, marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate bars and firewood was always the main focus of every single one of these evenings yet it never got tiring.  Each time was a new adventure.  Firewood was never much concern because of an abundance of lots throughout her large neighborhood, dotted throughout her large neighborhood, thanks to Hurricane Katrina.  In fact, gathering the wood was one of the best parts.  Miranda would never end the night until the fire did.  Sometimes, Miranda’s Mom would have to urge the fire out a little earlier than it wished just so she could coax Miranda inside.

Miranda Grace was taken, November 28, 2011, from her Mother, and her home, and friends, schoolmates, neighbors, so abruptly she never even got to say goodbye.  She never even finished wrapping the Christmas presents she worked so hard to purchase and had been keeping so secretive.  They lay half-hidden near the foot of her bed along with strings of ribbon and scatterings of bows, and wrapping paper, along with a pair of school scissors, tape, and all manner of artsy supplies that she kept stockpiled in her newly decorated Jungle-Themed room.  Miranda just simply left one morning and never came back.

Miranda never did get to unpacked her book bag from her 5th grade class Thanksgiving party..  Her book bag still holds evidence of that party and those happy 5th grade days that were cut so short.  There are still crumbs and sticky juice stains to see and it’s still cluttered with her artwork all crinkled and folded over.

Miranda was taken so fast she never even got a chance to put her tennis shoes on.

Miranda has been missing, in plain sight for nearly two years.  She is only 200 miles away from home but has not seen her room, yard, her friends, her neighbors, her beloved Ocean Springs beach and the Gulf of Mexico waters last she loved so much.   Miranda has been crying for home for 20 months.  She used to count the days but she quit at 465.  She wrote letters to teachers and counselors in the beginning.  She left notes in trees that she hoped would get back to the right people, people who could help her.  Some notes actually were found by people but they didn’t know what to do so they did nothing.  Miranda even called the police, once, but, would never do something that foolish again.  She suffered too much when the police left her where she was, without being able to help her more.  As soon as they found out Miranda had a court-appointed guardian ad litem their investigation was over.  Miranda couldn’t really blame them.  That’s what a guardian ad litem, and, also, a court appointed psychologist, was supposed to do for a kid.  No one tried to find out more about a scared girl that literally moved in overnight, who acted weird and was treated even weirder.  They all assumed the guardian ad litem was doing her job.  No one asked.

Anyway, none of this was anything like on tv when there were heroes who always helped kids and were the boss of everybody.  In real life the grownups acted confused but afraid to ask questions, or, they acted like the kid WAS the trouble.  Miranda learned this quick and vowed never to tell them anything again.  Even the teachers were different at this new place.  She was put in this school so quick … at her old school her teachers and the kids would at least ask a kid what was going on with them.   Here it was like they did not care.  That hurt almost as much as everything else.  Being nothing, to nobody.  Miranda could tell some of the teachers cared but just did not know what to do.  These hinted, at least, and they acted a little nicer to her than they did the other, “regular” kids.  They watched her cry, they watched her quit. They watched her go from scared and quiet to fighting all the time and quitting learning altogether.   

Miranda remembers the ones that were kind to her.  She’s never forgotten the ones who were not.  

Miranda knows it has to be the right person before she ever tries to ask for help anymore.  She wonders if God hears her prayers and she wonders why this is happening to her?

As Miranda’s Mom, I had a really hard time comprehending that I had been eliminated from her life.  It took months for me to try to understand and sort advice of those other parents.  I am still fighting to regain what I want more than anything on earth –  my place back in my daughter’s life.

With each passing day, week, month, it became more real and dreadful.  I began to accept things all I’d heard but rejected in horror.  Every single crazy, radical, outrageous thing those other parent had said has come true and my world has tilted on its axis.  I just wish everyone else’s would tilt a little bit too because I never dreamed these things could happen to someone like me, in our free and blessed Country.  That’s not sarcasm, I really mean it.  I love my country.  I love Mississippi.  I love country music and old gospel hymns and I’m a mutt, a mixed breed of at least 3 generations of Mississippians.  My father is a city boy from Richton, MS, my mother a cotton-farmer’s daughter from Lena, MS.  I grew up trolling through country cemeteries on Sunday afternoons with my parents, looking for our “ancestors”.  I loved that kind of thing.  I loved my upbringing and my heritage.  If I was naive and unaware these things could and do happen right here under our noses then I can give the rest of the Country the benefit of the doubt!  This is very real, and it really happens, and there are a whole lot more suffering, “invisible” kids, with suffering “helpless” parents out there than any of us would like to believe.  And they are hurting in plain sight.  It’s agony and torture and the grief is indescribable.  To have a child who suffers is horrible.  To watch them suffer and be totally unable to help them is worse than death.  I know because I am living it.

My 80 year old father also serves as my attorney now for the obvious reason – I am broke.  He and I both faced jail last week for gal fees and court sanctions.  We dodged a bullet that day, 07-15-13, but only for 30 days, recently extended to, 60 days and it’s soon pay or jail-time for me.  Yes, our county jails are often used for unpaid guardian ad litem fees.  

Meanwhile, Miranda continues to be invisible.  If left up to the powers that be she would remain that way.  

Miranda’s Mom did nothing wrong, nothing more than become impoverished over the 8 years since her divorce in Rankin County.  In that time, court costs, attorney fees, other guardian ad litem appointments, all cost her over $40,000 and is still adding up.  The judge even recently commented that if I “the mother” was too poor to afford the costs then I “the mother” have no business being in his courtroom”. 

Miranda’s Mom is not an addict, or a criminal, nor is she mentally ill, or unfit morally or ethically.  She has never been any of those things.  Miranda’s father has been all of those things.  Miranda’s father has a family with lots of money.

The modification hearing was cancelled because Miranda’s mom had not paid her portion of the guardian ad litem fees …. $6K plus some (and counting) used to be nothing to Miranda’s mother but it is now.  That’s about the same as asking a million.  It’s impossible.  Miranda’s mother didn’t even agree to the fees in the first place … the opposing attorney recommended this guardian ad litem, and, who told Miranda’s Mom and her attorney that his client would pay the gal expenses.  After all, it was only right as it was his client that was the reason for which this appointment was necessary.  His client had the parties back in court almost every year and sometimes twice a year since their divorce was granted some eight years prior.  Miranda’s mom reminded the gal of this fee arrangement very recently while she had a chance.  To her surprise, the guardian ad litem acknowledged this arrangement and then said to Miranda’s Mom, “too bad it wasn’t on record”.

This guardian ad litem has left a trail of horrified parents and damaged kids in our small-town county in central Mississippi, perhaps other counties as well.  I know these people may be well-known.  I am guessing that is why no one has been able to help Miranda, or me, her Mom, these past two years.  I have read much lately that has been publicized regarding government corruption and children’s rights, and I have seen that, sometimes, people speak up and help, for truth and justice.  I’m not asking anyone to take me at my word alone.  I am asking for an opportunity to present documentation to support the truth because I can.  I am asking for help putting a face to just one little girl’s name. A face to the name of one, young girl who has been kept silent far too long and maybe to one, very, battle-fatigued mom.

I am speaking up for Miranda, my now 12-year old daughter who was removed from my custody on November 28, 2011, for absolutely no reason at all.   My daughter lost the right to have a mother and I lost the right to mother the child I gave birth to. Miranda’s has fought so valiantly and for so long.  Her hope has dimmed but it still burns.  She continues to do everything she possibly can to help herself.  Doesn’t she deserve some chance to be heard?

Some part of Miranda still believes in heroes, in the good guys, and that help will soon come riding out of the hills to chase away the bad guys. Miranda’s only 12 years old. Another year or two and she may not believe in tales any longer.  That’s what I’m afraid of. 

I’m not sure but I’m wondering – are you the right person for Miranda to tell?

Sincerely Yours,

Miranda’s Mom

 

 

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Where’s this Money? … “”Funding for Legal representation provided for Rankin, Adams, Harrison, Forrest Counties”….

“Mississippi is one of only two states that do not provide free representation to …. ???  {article & url below}.  I personally would like to know where all this “funding” went, or is going?!, ie. where’s the money?, as referenced in the headline …. “Funding for Legal representation provided for Rankin, Adams, Harrison, Forrest Counties” …. I certainly don’t know, and I personally have not found in any of my research anyone who has received assistance for this program, and for the purposes outlined.  My children and I were denied, twice, for assistance to receive any representation by Mission First, several times by Mississippi Legal Services, and, the Mississippi Bar Association has kept re-routing me back to steps A and B .. the black hole of despair and the never-ending cycle meant to make you dizzy or chase your tail until you cry “uncle” and quit or die trying!

Over the past two years I’ve inquired, applied with Southern Poverty, ACLU, …. no funding available for me or my children, whether for reasons of race, gender, nationality, jurisdiction, location, etc. I was not allowed not know, ALL AGENCIES I’ve spoken with, even Children’s Rights, regrettably informed me that my children and I fall into category of  “high conflict divorce” which eliminates many families.  This is quite frustrating, unfair, and unjust as, in many cases, certainly in mine, my divorce was finalized years ago (mine, March 2006) …. how can that be labeled “high conflict?.  These agencies shy away from any cases in which domestic violence or child abuse is inferred, alluded, and, as in our case, very easily documented.  I suppose they have good reasons for this … but I would certainly like to know what they are.  I exhausted my savings, over $45,000, by last count, in the first six years, defending myself and my children, and I was successful …. until my savings was depleted.  Coincedentally, I was unable to protect my children when my money was gone, spent, fed into the system.

 

 

Article re: funding for Mississippi, legal representation below:

February 25, 2013:  Youth Courts in Adams, Forrest, Harrison and Rankin counties are participating in a pilot program which provides free legal representation for low-income parents in Youth Court hearings in which allegations of abuse or neglect could result in court-ordered removal of children from parents’ custody. 

Rankin County Youth Court Judge Thomas Broome said …., Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso said, “The hope is that parent representation will result in better outcomes for children and families. It will provide parents with a better understanding of the procedures and what is necessary to be reunited with their children.”   

Providing a legal advocate for the parent will curb unnecessary removal of children from parents, Judge Alfonso said. “Ultimately the goal is to prevent removal if possible. If appropriate services can be provided to prevent removal, we are obligated to attempt to provide services that prevent or eliminate the need to separate the child and the family.” 

Mississippi is one of only two states that do not provide free representation to low income parents in Youth Court proceedings which may result in loss of custody of children.

Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson said, “The fact that government can come in and take a person’s children away and that person has to walk into a courtroom where everyone else is represented by attorneys and that person does not have an attorney — I can’t think of anything worse than that.  “But if they had committed a misdemeanor (that could result in jail time), they could get a (court appointed) lawyer,” Judge Hudson said.  Providing attorney representation for low income people provides fairness, Judge Hudson said. Judges dealing with unrepresented litigants are put in the untenable position of trying to assure fairness without crossing the line into advocacy, he said. While judges can explain the proceedings, they can’t advise and help the unrepresented party.

Forrest County Youth Court Judge Michael McPhail said that before the pilot program began, the Department of Human Services, the prosecutor and the court administrator might explain proceedings before a hearing, then he would explain the person’s rights and the process from the bench. “These people were hearing everything about their case and their rights from somebody who does not represent them,” Judge McPhail said. “They may lose because they didn’t know what to do.”

Having an attorney representing parents also creates another level of accountability, Judge Hudson said. When the court sets conditions for reunification, parents may procrastinate to meet those conditions. An attorney will push the client to comply with the court’s orders.  Having an attorney available to represent the parents will speed up the process so that proceedings don’t drag on. “It’s going to speed the process tremendously,” said Judge Hudson.  Quicker resolution of cases will save public dollars, Judge Hudson said. “It will save money by getting them out of the foster care system quicker.”

Part of the funding for the pilot program comes from a $100,000 grant from Seattle based Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest private foundation focused on foster care and improving the child welfare system. The foundation works to reduce the need for foster care by helping the child welfare system to prevent family crises that lead to separation and foster care.

H. Lien Bragg, Casey Family Programs Senior Director of Strategic Consulting, said, “Casey Family Programs is pleased to support Mississippi’s efforts to establish parent representation for families involved in the child welfare system. We believe timely, adequate and competent legal representation is a critical driver in expediting permanency and well-being outcomes for children involved in dependency court proceedings.”

 Harrison County, which has the largest number of cases, received $50,000 in Casey Family Programs grant funding for a full-time attorney. Adams and Forrest counties each received $25,000 in grants to pay for attorney representation. The Administrative Office of Courts provided $45,000 through a Court Improvement Program grant to fund the Rankin County program.

The arrangements differ among the four pilot counties. A full-time attorney on the staff of the Mississippi Center for Legal Services will begin representing low income Harrison County parents on March 1. Parents in Rankin County since October 2012 have had access to an attorney who works for Mission First Legal Aid Office. Mission First Legal Aid is a partnership between Mississippi College School of Law and Mission First, a neighborhood outreach ministry. Forrest County uses two part-time contract attorneys who started representing clients in October 2012. Adams County in December began appointing a local attorney who takes cases in a part-time contractual arrangement.

Judge Broome said that he does not order parents to contact Mission First Legal Aid Office, but makes them aware of the availability of legal representation there.  Mission First Legal Aid has opened 16 cases for parent representation since last October, said Director Patti Gandy. Mission First attorney Carlyn Hicks, who handles

Rankin County parental representation, is there “to be that voice for that parent who may be so distraught that they may not be able to coherently tell the court their side of the story and what’s really going on,” Gandy said.

“What we are trying to do is shorten the period of time, if that child has to be taken from that home, and to determine if it is really necessary for that child to be taken from the home. Sometimes it’s not necessary for the child to be removed from the home,” Gandy said. “Studies have shown if you can get an attorney involved for parents at the beginning of the proceeding, it shortens the time the child is away from home or separated from parents.  It’s all about making sure the child does not stay in the system any longer than is necessary,” 

 

Found on link:  https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/1/?ui=2&ik=4bb2674b6d&view=att&th=140c588a5768064f&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=1444626868951857644-1&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P8HWWUfo58erssemNaUU0Rp&sadet=1377707912573&sads=lSl4GznVy71-BY_MjrQtv9um-2E