Juvenile Advocates of Clackamas County: Rebecca Schaleger, Attorney

Schaleger Philpott has several lawyers doing work through Juvenile Advocates of Clackamas. This is a juvenile defense consortium in Clackamas County. We are the only consortium in the county that takes court appointed dependency and delinquency cases. There are 10 different attorneys handling the work through the contract that JACL has negotiated with the state. Four of those lawyers are with the firm Schaleger Philpott. We represent parents and children when DHS separates families and initiates a court case. We also represent youth who are charged with a crime, including waiver hearings where the DA is attempting to remove a youth to adult court.

This is a very narrow niche in the law, and a person who wants to retain an attorney in this area of law should be careful to get a lawyer familiar with the specific codes that apply in juvenile matters. Our lawyers have been involved in many cases where a parent has retained counsel, rather than go with a court appointed attorney, believing retained counsel is the better option. Often, those retained lawyers seek our advice about how to handle the case or what the next steps should be. The truth is, you want an attorney who knows what they are doing. You can easily end up paying for an attorney with very little experience in this area, given how small the field of experienced practitioners are.

When I meet with a parent on a dependency case for the first time, one of the very first questions they ask is how long until they get their children back, and how long will their case last. Those are two different questions. A child can be returned at any point in the case as long as there is a plan in place to ensure the child’s safety. It might be immediately, a few months, or never that a family is reunited. It will depend on the parent’s commitment to engaging in services if appropriate, or good legal work if DHS has overstepped their boundaries. But a return to parent does not facilitate a case closure. Often, a child is back with a parent while they continue to engage in services for many months before the situation has resolved into what can be a case dismissal. An average dependency case lasts about 2 years.

Public Defenders are amazing lawyers who have a bad reputation regarding doing good legal work. This is not because they are not competent, but because they are overwhelmed with high case loads and underpaid by the state. I have now reached a point where I can be picky about the number of cases I take on, and this gives me more time to spend with clients. I do this work because I believe that when a person gets a court appointed lawyer, it should not be someone who is doing it because they have no other options, but someone GOOD at what they do, who is doing the work because of a passion and interest in the law. These are important cases that demand a lot of expertise and people skills. When everything comes together as it is supposed to, families are better. Substance abuse issues are tackled. Children are safer. Despite a lack of resources and a lack of funding, this work continues to be worthwhile and important, and I will continue to do it, whether court appointed or retained, for as long as I am feasibly able.

Juvenile Advocates of Clackamas County Spotlight