March 14, 2023

Venable Achieves Pro Bono Victory in Southern California Dependency Case

3 min

Sarah Cronin, a partner in Venable’s Los Angeles office, recently secured a victory on behalf of the current caregivers and de facto parents of two siblings, a brother and a sister aged two and three. Because her birth mother was declared unfit to provide the proper care, the older child was first placed with her foster parent and de facto mother when she was just two months old. Nearly a year later, the toddler was returned to her birth mother.

She and her newborn brother shared a home with their mother and maternal grandmother for nearly a year. During that time, the former foster couple regularly visited and babysat both children. The foster couple were then contacted by the children’s social worker, informing them that the children were being removed from the mother’s care by the county and that they would be placed in foster care. Venable’s clients took in both children that night.

About a year later, the couple sought legal assistance when the county filed an "emergency amendment" asking for the children to be placed with the maternal grandmother—the same person whose home the children had been removed from. Advokids, an advocacy organization for foster children in Southern California, referred the case to Venable, and Cronin began representing the foster parents in May of 2022. She filed briefs with the court explaining why the children should remain where they were, and the hearing went forward in December.

At the hearing, the court unexpectedly called the maternal grandmother to testify, so Cronin had to prepare for cross-examination on the fly while listening to the testimony on direct examination. Through her cross-examination, she elicited testimony that the grandmother described the older child as "ill" because of her diagnosis of high-functioning autism, which did not sit well with the court. Cronin also drew out testimony that the younger child was severely developmentally delayed when he was placed with Venable’s clients, but the grandmother had not noticed that anything was wrong.

Venable’s client prevailed on all three issues before the court:

  • First, the court denied the maternal grandmother’s petition to place the children with her, finding it was not in the children’s best interests
  • Second, the court denied the biological parents’ petitions to reinstate reunification services, finding that the parents had not demonstrated changed circumstances and the children did not have a significant bond with them, having lived most of their lives with Venable’s clients
  • And third, the court terminated the parents’ rights, thus freeing the children to be adopted by Venable’s clients

This victory clears the path for the couple to adopt the two children, who have been calling them "Mommy" and "Daddy" for the past year and a half.

Cronin, who focuses her practice primarily on entertainment litigation, appreciated this pro bono opportunity, as it allowed her to tackle areas of the law that are different from those she is accustomed to, and the grandmother's surprise testimony forced her to adjust her strategy mid-trial.

"Venable encourages us to include pro bono work as part of each of our practices," Cronin said. "We have all these resources to bring in to help this family out."

Legal administrative assistant Karen Tjaden and partner Dan Silverman contributed to this victory, as did Advokids.

"Advokids was exceedingly helpful," Cronin continued. "They are true experts and were able to provide their expertise and resources to get us up to speed on the law so that we could advocate effectively on behalf of our clients."