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“Mommy, please don’t leave me, I didn’t do anything wrong”

Judge William Marshall rules against mother

By David Jaques

Roseburg, OR—Even though the mother of two and a half year old Nakota Eckel has never been accused of abuse or neglect of her daughter, nor been charged with any crime, Judge William Marshall has directed the Oregon DHS agency to terminate the mother’s parental rights within sixty days.

The decision was issued July 13, three days after the statutory deadline, according to Kareen LaValley, attorney for AJ Pichette, Nakota’s mother. Although the decision was filed with the court clerk on July 13 neither LaValley nor her client received notice of the court’s ruling until Friday, July 16. LaValley said Marshall’s failure to meet the statutory time limit may be grounds to have the decision overturned.

In an exclusive interview with The Beacon, Pichette said upon learning the news late Sunday afternoon from her attorney, that Judge Marshall ruled against her, she didn’t break down and cry she just felt numb. “I was warned to expect it by my attorney, before the judge even finished the hearing,” said Pichette, based on the demeanor the judge exhibited in court and the direction the proceedings had taken.

It all started on November 16, 2007 when Geraldine (nickname AJ) Eckel, now Pichette, had her seven week old infant daughter taken from her by law enforcement, when they responded to a report of a firearm being brandished by AJ’s older brother in the residence where she lived in Curtain, Oregon.

She asked law enforcement why they were taking her baby, but they refused to answer. She has been in a battle with the state ever since.

In his thirteen page decision, Marshall suggested the young mother was not “a credible witness” stating she had “not been truthful with the court”. Perhaps the most fantastic statement coming from the bench was when Judge Marshall informed the mother he knew she was lying because her “arms were folded”. AJ responded at the time that “no your honor, I’m just nervous”.

While lacking in any charges or allegations of abuse or neglect, Marshall’s decision contained vague terms such as; “She was observed to be detached from the child…” and stated that AJ had not “sufficiently bonded” with her child. These observances took place over a period spanning more than two years when the mother was only afforded semi-weekly “supervised visits”.

The Department of Human Services “Status of Children” report states that DHS is to implement strategies to help children “safely remain at home with their parents, rather than enter foster care in the first place”. DHS also set the following stated goals to “safely reduce the number of children in foster care”. They are to: Reduce the number of children entering foster care; Increase the number of children who remain safely at home after a founded report of neglect; Increase the number of children leaving foster care – either to reunite with parents …

Pichette said regardless of their stated “strategies”, she has never, during the two year ordeal, sensed that DHS case workers were trying to reunite her with her daughter. She said “most of the time, they made me feel like I was doingeverything wrong. I just tensed up, and I know Kota could sense this. I always felt like I was being criticized, I felt a lot of pressure at each visit.”

Kota with baby brother Liam during supervised visitSince the conclusion of the hearings in June of this year, Pichette said they have begun to treat her much worse. During the visitation with her daughter, following the hearing, she said the case worker, Corey McGovern, just “glared at me.”

McGovern was questioned during the hearings about her distant family ties to the foster parents, Kim and Mike Root, both Douglas County Deputy Sheriffs. McGovern testified in court that she didn’t want Kota returned to her natural mother and Kim Root also told the court she wanted to adopt AJ’s daughter.

Pichette also stated that the foster parents violated state requirements that she be informed any time the foster parents desire to take her child out of state. In the time period since the hearings in June, the Roots, without requesting the mother’s permission as required, took her daughter out of state to California on a vacation. AJ said she learned about this from her daughter Kota during a subsequent supervised visit.

Judge Marshall was asked during the hearing if he had a relationship to the Roots since he worked in the prosecutor’s office before being assigned to the Judge Pro-tem position he now holds. Marshall said his contact with them was just on a professional basis. Incidentally, Marshall’s wife acts as supervisor to one of the mental health nurses assigned to AJ’s case.

Kareen LaValley said that Marshall’s decision will be appealed again, and that like the last trip to the Oregon Court of Appeals, she is confident the decision will be reversed or remanded. LaValley said Shannon Storey, who handled the first appeal, will be filing the appeal on behalf of Pichette, as soon as the court’s judgment is entered. Juvenile matters are normally expedited due to the impacts on minor children.

AJ told the Beacon that her daughter has changed substantially since the conclusion of the June hearings. “At the end of our last visit she clung to me and cried ‘Mommy please don’t leave me-I didn’t do anything wrong-I love you mommy-I want to go with you!” The case worker took Kota from her mother’s arms and said “I’ll take her downstairs [to the waiting foster parent]” and according to AJ Kota just screamed “No, Mommy, no!”

Pichette said she is determined to get her daughter back, and won’t give up until that happens. She said they spent the last few weeks getting Kota’s room ready for her. “We put her bed and dresser in the room with her brother Liam’s, shampooed the rugs and got everything ready.”

AJ said they are setting up a legal defense fund to help get her daughter out of the states clutches.

Meanwhile a mother and a child are kept apart while the agencies and the court argue over who should be allowed to raise Pichette’s daughter.

Reprinted with permission from the Roseburg Beacon News, Vol.3- Issue 29 July 21, 2010