Can Maricopa County’s Juvenile-Justice System Fix Troubled Teens? Rarely, One Judge Laments

In reporting this series, New Times staff writer Paul Rubin spent months at the Maricopa County Juvenile Court in downtown Phoenix. He focused on the work of two Superior Court judges, Michael Kemp and Ronald Reinstein, and on their delinquency and dependency calendars, respectively. Delinquency court judges hear cases about minors accused of committing crimes. Dependency court judges hear cases about children who may have been abused or neglected and have the power (see next week's story) to sever a parent's legal rights in so-called "dependency hearings," usually long after the child has become a "ward" of the state. Until July 1, 2008, dependency courts were closed to the public. But Judge Reinstein, who since has retired from the bench, agreed before that date to allow New Times access to his courtroom, with the stipulation that no names or other identifying information be disclosed. Names of juveniles in these stories have been changed, except for those whose criminal cases were transferred to adult court.

JUDGING JUVIES: First in a Series

Mike Kemp had been a Maricopa County Juvenile Court judge for just a few months when he was faced with a particularly momentous decision.

Sitting in front of Kemp in handcuffs was 13-year-old Edgar Valles, all 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds of him, still a year or so from shaving for the first time.

Kemp is a lanky, athletic former prosecutor whose previous job was at the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Now, as a new judge, he had to decide whether to order Valles to adult court to face a first-degree murder charge in the October 2005 Phoenix shooting of a 23-year-old man.

County prosecutors had asked him to "transfer" Valles out of the juvenile system because of the seriousness of the charge. Under Arizona law, they wouldn't even have had to ask Kemp for permission if the boy had been 14.

And if Valles had been 15, he automatically would have been considered a legal adult.

The child earlier had confessed to police to murdering the man after selling him and two other men methamphetamine. Valles had been the middleman (or middle boy) in the botched deal during the wee hours in west Phoenix.

The diminutive Valles had been selling drugs for older guys for some time, in return for money, clothes, food, and his own dope. He was hooked on "sherms," which are joints laced with the dangerous hallucinogen PCP, or angel dust.

Remarkably, Valles had been in Juvenile Court only once before the shooting, as a 9-year-old shoplifter.

A probation officer and a prosecutor had urged Judge Kemp to send the boy up to Superior Court. Otherwise, Valles would exit the juvenile system on his 18th birthday, just four years later.

However, citing the child's age and alleged potential for rehabilitation, psychologist Dr. Stan Cabanski asked the judge to keep Valles in Juvenile.

The boy told Kemp in a letter, "I did not mean for anyone to get hurt that night. It was an accident. I want to tell the victim's family how sorry I am that this happened and how terrible I feel about it. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart."

Perhaps he is.

But the judge decided to treat him as an adult.

"I knew what moving him out [to Superior Court] would mean to his life," Kemp said much later, after an appellate court had upheld his order. "But the law is the law, and the safety of the public is part of that equation. But it's still sad because the boy never should have been in that situation in the first place."

The 13-year-old Valles was the youngest of 564 Arizona juveniles moved to adult court in 2006. (That may provide perspective on the unlikelihood of that St. Johns boy who was 8 when he allegedly murdered his father and a roomer on November 5 ever being sent to adult court.)

Valles later pleaded guilty in Superior Court to second-degree murder and is serving a 17-year sentence. He is incarcerated at a state facility in Tucson, in a section reserved for minors sentenced as adults.

Before he moved to the adult criminal bench last year, Judge Kemp would rule in thousands of other juvenile delinquency cases.

He worked like a black-robed air-traffic controller, trying to keep everyone who appeared on his crowded radar screen as safe as possible in a dangerous world.

Kemp would have final say in the cases involving all but a handful of kids who landed in his court. That handful included children accused of the most serious crimes and those deemed "chronic felony offenders" under the law.

In Arizona and elsewhere these days, juvenile judges don't have the power they once had over the legal futures of the most violent young offenders.

Swayed by ultra-conservative politicians and policymakers, including future Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the Arizona Legislature and voters wrested key powers from the juvenile judiciary in the early 1990s.

The most controversial change gave prosecutors sweeping new authority to charge certain juveniles as adults and made many of those transfers to Superior Court automatic under law.

The sole reason Mike Kemp even got a say in the Edgar Valles transfer to adult court was the boy's tender age at the time of the murder.

Juvenile delinquency courts usually get mentioned in the media only after a young menace hurts or kills someone.

Then, conservative politicians like County Attorney Thomas and like-minded pundits usually thank God out loud that Arizona law does not allow judges to go "soft" on alleged perpetrators anymore.

However, the reality of life in juvenile delinquency court — at least in Judge Kemp's court — had nothing to do with "soft."

New Times can make the following observations after having sat in the judge's courtroom for months of delinquency hearings:

• Engaged judges like Kemp seem better equipped than anyone, prosecutors and lawmakers included, to decide how and in which court to adjudicate minors charged with crimes.

• Juvenile judges generally are anything but soft on juveniles who commit crimes.

• What violent youngsters such as Valles had in common with most juveniles in Kemp's court was: They all lacked adult supervision.

That last point goes to the heart of this story.

Most of the kids who ended up on Mike Kemp's delinquency radar screen are pretty much out in the world on their own.

Lacking education, living in poverty, into illegal drugs, with scant job prospects, juveniles who break the law should come as no surprise to the public. The real surprise is that they don't do it more often.

Asked at the end of one long day in court to sum up his greatest frustration, Kemp uttered just one word: "Parents."

Anyone who spends time at Juvenile Court cannot help but see how many parents are disconnected from their children's lives.

The parents who did show up in court sometimes seemed more oblivious to the gravity of the situation than the juveniles themselves.

"This is their chance to impress me," the judge said of parents, "and they're chomping on gum and not even pretending to show respect. It's an indication about how many of these parents' lives are."

The judge wasn't suggesting that all parents are to blame for the legal fixes their progeny had gotten into. Some had lost control of their children for reasons that cannot be explained away by simply calling them "bad" caretakers.

For example, not every mother has a family member or someone else to fall back on in times of trouble (though it is almost cliché how many grandmothers try to come to the rescue).

But as Kemp told New Times, "There are a lot of parents who can't even pull it together to get here on time for a court hearing for their child. That should tell you all you need to know.

"Their kid is out there doing drugs — meth is still big — hanging out, maybe going to school when they feel like it, doing crimes here and there. And then Mom comes in here and begs me not to punish her kid, to have all the answers. I just don't."

And no wonder.

In the 2008 edition of KIDS COUNT, Arizona rated a lowly 39th in a survey that considers the economic, social, educational, and physical wellbeing of children across the nation.

The study by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation is worth noting because it ties in so closely with the daily events at Juvenile Court.

In part, the study considers the percentage of children living with parents who do not have full-time year-round employment; of teens who are high school dropouts; of teens not attending school and not working; of children living in poverty; of children living in a one-parent family.

Arizona dropped three notches from its 2007 rating.

That seems to refute the claims of departing Governor Janet Napolitano and her administration that the wellbeing of Arizona's children improved dramatically on her watch.

Still, violent crimes committed by juveniles have been on the decline in Maricopa County and nationwide since 1994. Yet overall business at Juvenile Court remains brisk.

Maricopa County statistics show that 24,390 children under the age of 18 were "referred" to Juvenile Court for prosecution over a yearlong stretch that ended June 30, 2008.

About half of those referrals involved lesser infractions such shoplifting, truancy, running away, curfew, alcohol or marijuana possession, and disorderly conduct.

A more-disturbing number is the 5,632 youths ordered incarcerated — "detained" is the daintier official term — by judges in a county juvenile facility during that year. About 40 percent of these kids committed crimes against people and property.

Some of these juveniles — 551 — were sent to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

A mother plays with her young niece's hair as she awaits her daughter's delinquency hearing in the hall outside Judge Kemp's courtroom.

Dressed in plaid shorts and a sky-blue spandex top, the woman is chewing gum hard and sweating profusely.

Explaining the perspiration, she says she's just gotten off a city bus and practically ran to court on this already-sweltering summer morning.

This single mom knows the drill.

Her only child has been incarcerated at the nearby detention facility for a few weeks and has been in and out of Juvenile Court since she was 9.

But Malika's case will have to wait, as it is number nine on Kemp's calendar.

Inside the courtroom, 16-year-old Daniel admits his guilt in a pot-possession case.

The judge is about to sentence him to 24 hours of community service, urinalysis tests, and a probation term — typical for first offenders — when boom.

"Have you taken any alcohol or illegal drugs in the last 24 hours?" Kemp asks the boy.

"Yes," Daniel says. "I smoked weed last night."

The judge leans forward and says, "Excuse me?"

Prosecutor Herb Kalish, one of few veterans from the County Attorney's Office assigned to Juvenile Court, speaks up.

"Knowing he was coming to court today, I think it's safe to say this juvenile has a problem," he says.

Kalish asks Judge Kemp to hold a 30-day jail sentence over Daniel's head until the boy completes a full year on probation.

"What you did was not exactly a great thing to do, to put it mildly," the judge tells him. "I'm wondering, what are your plans for this summer?"

"Nothing," Daniel replies, shrugging and pulling on oversized jeans that are barely hanging onto his hips.

"What's going on here, Mom?" the judge asks Daniel's mother.

"Me?" she replies. "Oh. I thought he was going to summer school, but I guess he changed his mind."

Kemp just shakes his head.

Half a dozen fourth- and fifth-graders from west Phoenix's P.T. Coe Elementary School are observing with two of their counselors.

"What a punk," a little girl whispers to one of the counselors, who nods in agreement.

The judge releases Daniel to his mother but does go along with prosecutor Kalish's suggestion of a deferred jail sentence.

The boy will have to serve time only if he flunks probation, which certainly seems possible.

The judge also orders Daniel to take an immediate drug test with a probation officer. In the hall, Daniel's mother questions the need for the test since he's already owned up to smoking pot.

"Why don't they just get him some help instead of treating him like a criminal?" says the woman, adding that she has a 19-year-old daughter "who is doing fine, and she used to be a mess, too."

New Times asks the woman why she does not insist that Daniel attend school or, perhaps, find work.

"He's never gotten into anything," she replies, put off by the question. "He got kicked out of the alternative school they sent him to. His father is a creep. He's never had anyone but my brother to be like a dad. But my brother doesn't have time to mess with him anymore."

Back inside the courtroom, the judge is about to order a 161/2-year-old incorrigible to juvenile prison.

The boy, Ralph, isn't violent, just a drug abuser and a thief (he first got caught as a 14-year-old driving a stolen car, though he blamed an older boy for actually hot-wiring the vehicle).

His probable last chance of staying free was success in the intensive probation program, in which court officials monitor juveniles extremely closely.

These hyper-vigilant officers are at the core of the county's delinquency system, and judges usually follow their recommendations and counsel.

Many of the roughly 800 kids on intensive probation in Maricopa County have to wear electronic ankle bracelets that alert authorities if the kids are not where they are supposed to be.

Ralph was wearing a bracelet, but the unemployed school dropout apparently tired of being stuck inside his home. He took a chance that the bracelet would not work and cut it off. That's a crime.

But the device worked, and Ralph now is in custody at the Durango complex.

The judge asks Ralph what he has to say.

"I need to take meds for my bipolar, Judge," the youth musters.

Kemp tells Ralph that he is going to send him to Adobe Mountain, a state lockup for juveniles.

"I know this isn't going to be easy for you," he says, "but it's not happening for you out here."

Ralph's mother (the boy has no father present, which is commonplace in Juvenile Court) seems resigned to the situation and says little.

Ralph begins to cry as a detention officer leads him out of the courtroom and back to his cell.

Finally, bailiff Lena Hertel calls Malika's mother into court.

Glaring at everyone, Malika shuffles in through a side door in handcuffs and shackles.

On this day, she is one of 203 juveniles in custody at the Durango detention facility, a full house.

Malika is 12, but looks years older.

She sits at the defendant's table between her quietly weeping mother and her court-appointed attorney. No other family members are in court.

Judge Kemp peers at the girl's file and nods to himself. He had placed Malika on probation just a few months earlier after she admitted beating up a neighbor girl and then stealing her bicycle.

Malika threatened her mother with a kitchen knife just weeks after the judge had sent her home. Though no one got hurt, the incident scared Malika's mom enough to inform a probation officer, which was how the girl ended up back in court.

Elise Herman, a rookie prosecutor, asks the judge to keep Malika locked up because she "is a danger to others, and probably to herself, at this point in her life."

Without much conviction, Malika's attorney asks Kemp to release the girl on intensive probation so that she can attend school and, perhaps, receive more extensive services.

The judge asks Malika's mother what she has to say. The woman responds in a run-on sentence:

"She's been lying about her age and she has all these text messages coming in from older guys and I'm a single mom and I set up my job around her but she needs more help and discipline though she's not a really bad kid but she's just screwed up."

Kemp replies simply, "This report is really bad," referring to the probation officer's damning appraisal.

Malika speaks briefly.

"I was getting my grades up before my mom and me got into it again," she says. "I got some certificates. I earned them. You gotta let me out, please, sir. I'm ready to be good. I promise."

The judge isn't swayed. He tells her, "In my view, you are completely out of control. You need significant help. I'm going to keep you locked up until we can figure out the next step for you."

Malika briefly drops her tough-chick persona, her tears falling onto the table. Her mother tries to hug her, but the girl coldly turns away.

The courtroom clears. Kemp takes off his robe and steps to the gallery to speak with the elementary school kids who have been looking on intently.

"What's going to happen to her?" a 10-year-old girl asks of Malika.

"She's going to sit in there and wait, and eventually she'll get out, and she should," the judge says. "Meanwhile, her probation officer and other people are going to look for programs for her. We have to make sure that she's not going to hurt anyone or hurt herself. But she obviously has a lot of problems, and it's not going to be easy for her."

The student replies, "When I was 7 or 8, I was hanging out with some big kids in my neighborhood. But they got into trouble. One of them went to juvie. My mom finally put her foot down."

The school counselor asks for advice on how to keep her students, many of whom live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, from ending up like Malika.

"It's the basic stuff, the common-sense stuff," he says. "The going-to-school-every-day routine, the not-getting-into-drugs. The corny-but-true stuff. There are a lot of bad things and bad people out there."

Another student asks, "How do you go home after being a judge all day and not be sad?"

Kemp says, "I have a great wife and three great kids. And I do see some kids during the day who really are trying to make it out of the mess they're in. They're the ones who give me hope and keep me trying."

In 1967, when Michael Kemp was a boy in his native Illinois, juvenile judges alone determined the legal fates of children accused of breaking the law, and of those whose home lives were so disastrous as to demand court intervention.

Until then, juveniles virtually had no rights in court — no right to representation by a lawyer, no right to cross-examine witnesses, no protections against self-incrimination.

What the judge decided usually was the end of it.

The theory for generations had been that juvenile courts would serve as a sort of governmental parent in the stead of real parents. Civil liberties and due process of law never entered the equation.

In 1967, however, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a watershed decision in an Arizona case that forever altered juvenile law.

The case was called In Re Gault, after Gerry Gault, a boy from Globe.

In 1964, police accused Gault of making a lewd phone call to a local woman. Without the benefit of an attorney, the 15-year-old testified that a friend had made the offending call. But the juvenile judge did not believe him and sentenced Gault (who was on probation for shoplifting) to up to six years in a state reformatory.

An adult convicted of the same crime could have been incarcerated for no longer than two months. Gault served three years while his case was appealed by storied Phoenix attorney Amelia Lewis.

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Gault's favor.

Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the majority that "under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court," and that juveniles do have rights.

Spurred on by Gault, juvenile law had been overhauled by the time Kemp was appointed to the county court bench in 2005.

Yes, kids now have rights they never had before, but those rights came with a generally unintended consequence:

For generations, Juvenile Court had been a place where rehabilitation, not punishment and retribution, was the dominant theme.

But by the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s, the growing rate of violent crimes committed nationwide by juveniles — and the spate of publicity about the kiddy "crime wave" — allowed law-and-order types an opening.

A November 1995 piece in the Weekly Standard titled "The Coming of the Super-Predator" served as a template for myriad politicians and policy-makers trying to bolster their tough-guy credibility with frightened voters.

"On the horizon . . . are tens of thousands of severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators," author John Dilulio wrote. "Juveniles are doing homicidal violence in wolf packs."

In Arizona, ambitious young attorney Andrew Peyton Thomas (who at the time was also was penning his own screeds for the Standard) jumped on the anti-juvenile-crime bandwagon.

Working as a policy adviser to Arizona Governor Fife Symington III, Thomas helped draft the "Stop Juvenile Crime" initiative in 1995.

Pamphlets in support of the ballot proposition claimed judges too often went "soft" on violent kids, allowing them to stay in Juvenile Court instead of ordering them to adult court.

No matter that statistics provided by the Arizona Supreme Court at the time did not back those claims. The proposition sounded like the right thing to a majority of voters frightened by the horror stories.

The initiative won voter approval in 1996 and put far more control of juvenile transfers in the hands of prosecutors than ever before, and also made transfers in some of the most serious cases automatic.

The apparent assumption was that young offenders would be sentenced far more harshly in the adult system, and that the threat of this tougher punishment would result in lowered juvenile crime rates.

Arizona was not alone in this get-tough trend. More than 40 states passed similar legislation and initiatives in the 1990s.

But for reasons that social scientists continue to debate, something else was happening at exactly the same time as the new laws were kicking in.

Violent youth crime in Arizona and nationally started to shrink in 1994, according to National Institute of Justice statistics, and it has continued to decrease ever since.

That youth violence plummeted exactly when it was supposed to be exploding didn't sway "super-predator" acolytes such as Andy Thomas.

Thomas worked as a line prosecutor in Juvenile Court for a year or so before resigning to run for Maricopa County Attorney, winning election in 2004.

During that stretch, he saw what everyone else who works at Juvenile Court sees on a daily basis — parental maltreatment, substance abuse, mental-health issues, and educational shortcomings.

But Thomas has tended to frame many crimes committed by juveniles as a kind of moral defect inside the child. His real-life experiences at the Durango complex didn't move him, at least publicly, from his earlier uncompromising position on sending so many kids to adult court.

Surely, Juvenile Court is and always has been inappropriate for the most violent young criminals, of which 13-year-old Edgar Valles was one.

But recent scientific studies on the issue suggest that transferring kids willy-nilly is a bad idea.

"Juveniles prosecuted as adults re-offend more quickly and at rates equal to or higher than comparable youths retained in the justice system," Northeastern University criminal justice professor Donna Bishop wrote in a recent study.

Richard Redding, a professor of southern California's Chapman University School of Law and a leading expert on the issue tells New Times, "It may sound like a great idea to treat bunches of children as adults, and it obviously is appropriate in the most serious cases, but juvenile transfer is not a cure-all."

Judge Kemp says that "many, many of these kids I see are salvageable and just shouldn't be treated as adults or even locked up at Adobe Mountain, or wherever, until there's nothing else to do."

"Obviously, there are some very screwed-up kids, and some very dangerous ones. But it's amazing how some pull themselves out of overwhelmingly bad situations — poverty, bad parents, bad neighborhoods, drugs — and become law-abiding."

Kemp had not been on the job long enough at the time to see long-term successes, but he had heard about them: onetime delinquents who earned their high school diplomas and were attending college or learning a trade, kids who joined the military and were serving their nation, and kids who simply were not getting into any more trouble with the law.

It is not difficult to predict which juveniles have the better odds of turning their lives around. They are the kids with the support of parents or guardians and others who know what a crossroads is and will do whatever it takes to try to turn things around.

One such boy may be 14-year-old Patrick, who comes from a middle-class Phoenix home with two parents who are deeply devoted to their nine children.

Patrick never had been in trouble with the law until, over a two-day period, he repeatedly shot two horses in his neighborhood with a BB gun.

Authorities charged the boy with excessive cruelty to animals, a felony.

Judge Kemp told the boy at a hearing that, by admitting guilt, he would give up his right to remain silent, "because you're going to have to tell me what you did."

Thin, pale, and nervous, Patrick said he had been shooting soda cans in his backyard, and then, "I just shot the [neighbor's] horse."

It was not much of an explanation, but it sufficed as a legal admission.

The neighbor with the horses told the judge there had been two shootings, a day apart.

"One horse was penned and he couldn't escape," the woman said, her voice trembling with anger. "This kid shot him point-blank. I heard BBs ringing off the metal corral. The horses started to stampede. It was awful. He wantonly fired at living creatures."

The woman held up a photo of one of the wounded animals.

"I notice he didn't shoot his mother or father or whatever he has," she said, and then asked the judge to jail Patrick until his sentencing. "I think that something's missing here. I think a message clearly needs to be sent."

The boy's defense attorney told Kemp, "I don't disagree with anything I just heard. My client's parents are equally horrified by what happened. No one has any explanation."

Patrick's mother, who is a midwife, said quietly that she knows the chances of a child becoming a violent adult are greater when he or she has been cruel to animals.

"But my son is an animal lover," she insisted.

Kemp released Patrick to his parents.

Based on the probation reports and his own observations, the judge did not consider the boy beyond repair.

But he did want to teach him a lesson.

At Patrick's sentencing a few weeks later, Kemp sent the boy to the county's juvenile detention facility for a few days.

Weeks after a difficult case involving 15-year-old Judith, Judge Kemp — who usually comes across as calm and thoughtful in court — vented back in his chambers:

"She runs around with much older men — she's 15 going on 32 — her parents are dysfunctional, there's meth involved, she's been on standard and intensive probation, outpatient, inpatient. She's manipulative to the max. We're going to find her in an alley someday. I don't want send her to Adobe, but that's where she'll be going when all the other options are gone."

Judith then had cases pending in both prongs of the juvenile-justice system, delinquency (criminal) and dependency (protection from parental abuse and neglect).

Kemp earlier had placed the girl on probation after finding her delinquent following a series of misdemeanors — shoplifting, possession of drug paraphernalia, and other non-violent crimes.

But Judith was out of control.

She continued to run away from the foster-care settings where she had been living temporarily, and she often wound up in impossibly dangerous situations, usually with adult males.

Judith had gotten into methamphetamine and was sexually promiscuous before her 13th birthday. It was something of a miracle she was not dead.

Months earlier, state Child Protective Services officials finally removed the girl from her parents' home after finding extensive evidence of abuse and neglect.

It was not that her parents were beating her. But both were drug abusers with serious mental-health issues, and they would not even pretend to embrace so-called "family reunification" programs offered by the child-welfare agency.

The judge already had revoked the girl's probation for various reasons, but where to place her after the delinquency hearing was the nagging question.

Judith was running out of places to stay — short of a locked state juvenile facility — and CPS was not going to allow her to return to her parents anytime soon.

At that hearing, Judith had sat between her parents at the defendant's table, a moping girl with long, dark hair that she kept yanking.

She told the judge, "I'd like to go home. I think I'm well enough. I'm never going to do any of that stuff again."

Her father promised that Judith "is not going to be a problem now. She realizes it ain't a game anymore."

Judith chimed in, "I do. I do."

The judge said, "You've sat there three times already and told me the same thing. The best predictor of future is the past."

Judith said, wailing, "But I promise. I promise."

Kemp told her, "I would be irresponsible if I let you go home today."

Judith's mom sat mutely, a shrunken woman maybe in her early 40s.

But Dad wouldn't give up.

"What will you need to believe that I can control her?" he asked Kemp. "It's 100 percent in my mind that it's all under control."

"It's not going to happen today," Kemp replied, ordering Judith back into lockup at the county detention center until he could figure out what to do.

A follow-up hearing was scheduled. Before it occurred, Judith's father invited New Times to the couple's modest west Phoenix home.

The residence was dark, dank, cluttered, and smelled of urine and rotten food. Judith's mother was in a back room and would not come out.

Her father was beyond irate, claiming the state of Arizona and Judge Kemp were "conspiring" to keep Judith behind bars.

He pulled out a Phoenix police report dated several months earlier that described how his daughter claimed to have been sexually assaulted by two male staffers at a residential-treatment center where she was staying.

County prosecutors had declined to file criminal charges against the men.

He said the treatment center settled the matter out of court for more than $50,000, but he complained that the money would not be available until the girl's 21st birthday, years later.

At that moment, the family's latest CPS caseworker unexpectedly knocked on the door. Grudgingly, Judith's father let her in but blocked her from getting too far into the front room.

The woman asked him how things were going.

"You know exactly how things are going," the man snarled at her. "You people have no heart."

The caseworker responded gently that whatever was going to happen would take time, and she hoped that he and his wife would change their attitude.

A minute or so later, she excused herself.

Judge Kemp was able to find a place to put Judith before the girl's next court hearing a few weeks later.

He told Judith and her parents at the hearing that a bed soon would be opening at a residential treatment facility in northern Arizona. The judge suggested that she would be living there for months before the next step — whatever that might be.

"Who's paying for it?" the girl's father asked.

"Frankly, I don't care," the judge responded. "It will get paid for."

"I'm ready to go," Judith blurted.

Reports from the facility over the next few months suggested that she was doing surprisingly well.

But her parents' lives continued to crumble.

Their home was about to go into foreclosure (and later did).

Judith's father became increasingly obsessed and depressed.

Months after he met with New Times at his home, he called to say that his daughter would not even speak with him on the phone anymore.

He blamed Judge Kemp and CPS for having poisoned Judith's mind.

A few weeks after that brief conversation, the man hanged himself.

At last word, Judith still was not living with her mother, who now is in parts unknown. Judith apparently hasn't gotten into trouble with the law for more than a year.

Mike Kemp continues to wonder what difference, positive or otherwise, he had on the lives of Judith and the other children who came into his court day after day.

He questions whether he was spinning his wheels, trying to craft solutions in situations where none existed.

In the end, he says, "I wasn't their parents, was I?"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin