By Candi Summers
“A new hope has emerged for Dallas children in state custody.”
Reading that headline and this recent article in the Dallas Morning News, you’d think a bright new revolution was happening in the Dallas County Family Court. Glowing descriptions of Associate Judge Delia Gonzalez taking the extra time to give hope and help to those languishing in the foster care system, followed by a plea to the public to empower her with more time in court to serve these desperate children, feels deceptively heartening.
But if you spent over 60 hours in court, as I did, listening to this same person work as hard as she could to keep the Tutt family apart over the course of 18 months, you would know better.
If you dug a little deeper, you would find that Delia Gonzalez was the guardian ad litem for the seven Tutt children removed illegally by Child Protective Services (CPS) in November 2013. A guardian ad litem is supposed to be an objective, impartial person whom the court appoints to act as a representative for minor children in contested custody proceedings. If only that had been true for Pat, Emma, Bailey, James, K., G. and Chaniyah.
From the moment she was appointed, Delia Gonzalez worked to cover up for CPS’ illegal removal by offering false justifications for it. Her descriptions of the children’s inability to count objects, say the alphabet or spell their names were unbelievable to the Tutt’s many friends and family who had witnessed their academic ability over the years.
On Dec. 16, 2013, despite protests by the Tutts’ attorney that it is not lawful to remove children or keep them in CPS foster care without evidence of abuse or neglect, Delia Gonzalez strongly recommended to Judge Olvera that the children remain in CPS care indefinitely. The case hinged almost completely on Ms. Gonzalez’s concerns that the children were “severely behind educationally.”
In January 2014, Delia met the Tutts in their home with their attorney and acknowledged that she had no concerns about their parenting ability, the children’s safety, the ministry in which the family was involved or how many children they had in their home. However, she would not recommend to the court that the children be returned unless the Tutts agreed to place their children in public school and never homeschool them again.
Trevor and Christina knew this was a complete violation of their civil rights, so they refused. In the appeal hearing on Jan. 7, Delia Gonzalez continued to push for the children to stay in foster care with the aim of terminating their parental rights.
Thankfully, Judge Callahan returned some of the children to their parents that day. Unfortunately, Delia Gonzalez remained their guardian ad litem until later that year when THSC worked to have the children who were home returned to the guardianship of their parents.
The children were forced to attend public school for the rest of the school year and Delia was in contact with their teachers, who acted as spies in the Tutt home during tutoring visits. Delia also lied to the court, saying that the oldest child in custody wanted to stay with his biological father (which was not true). Now over 18, this young man said Delia told him that his mother gave him up willingly.
In her new role as judge in Permanency Court, Delia Gonzalez supposedly “learns about conditions in foster homes and treatment centers that often go unnoticed.” If only she had been this concerned about the foster homes the Tutt children were placed in six years ago. Emma, age 10, was not given a hairbrush during her entire stay in foster care. She was not allowed to comfort her younger sister, who was punished for urinary incontinence caused by a spinal defect.
The two of them were in a home with a man who served time for murder and their foster mom had an outstanding warrant for public intoxication. The other children were in a home where they were exposed to pornography and violence. All of the children and their parents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their experience.
I’m sure Ms. Gonzalez is used to wielding immense power over the lives of children and families. The entire Tutt case could have changed instantly had she recommended that the children be placed with a family member pending the hearings, that they be placed together in one home instead of broken up into three and that they be returned to the family after she saw clearly that neither the home nor the parents were dangerous.
Instead, she relentlessly pushed for termination of parental rights. When some of the children were returned, she continued to push for K. to stay in foster care, separated from her biological siblings.
Delia Gonzalez did permanent damage to the Tutt family and the seven children that CPS ripped from their home illegally. She was not a neutral third party looking for the best interests of the children. She was a biased party prejudiced against homeschooling in general and the Tutts in particular.
Many people feel that if you do your research, you vote for good judges. But Delia Gonzalez is an associate judge, appointed by an elected judge. She was not voted in and she cannot be voted out. She has enormous power over hundreds of children’s lives. She claims to take that task seriously, but how much of her personal prejudice will continue to taint her ability to rule justly on behalf of these vulnerable children?
Having seen far too much of the system, there are nagging concerns for me. How many of the children in Judge Delia’s court were removed from their families by CPS without just cause? How much of this mess is created by overzealous CPS workers and prejudiced guardian ad litems who believe they know better for the children than their parents? If the root of this issue were truly addressed, would family courts be so crowded? Would this judge and this special court be necessary to “parent” the children who are a product of the devastatingly crooked foster care system?
We can only guess at the answers, although by their own admission, for 75 percent of children removed by CPS, their parents are being accused of things CPS knows to be false.
What if CPS would give truly therapeutic care to the 25 percent that truly needed it? With more resources free to focus on actual needs, wouldn’t everyone benefit? That would be a true “new hope” for children in state custody.
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