Miami judge blasted for scolding runaway girl
A Miami judge, trying to scare a neglected child into making better decisions, may have gone too far with his tongue-lashing.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
A Miami child-welfare judge drew the ire of his chief and local children’s advocates when he told a 15-year-old runaway foster child she would end up a ”toothless, dead crack whore” if she didn’t mend her ways.
Exasperated that the girl was refusing to return to a home where she said her caregiver hit and cursed at her, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Spencer Eig lectured the sobbing teen about making bad choices during a hearing Tuesday.
”You’re throwing your life away,” Eig told the girl. “You could end up on the street toothless. You’ve seen these toothless hags on the street? You know how they get there? They blow their opportunities in life when they’re 15. They run away. They end up . . . People turn them into whores.”
”Toothless, dead crack whore. Dead at age 19? Is that the destiny you’re looking for?” he added.
The next day, after two attorneys who had been in court the day before complained about Eig’s comments, Miami-Dade Chief Juvenile Judge Cindy Lederman apologized to the girl.
”That should never have happened,” Lederman told the girl. “I’m so sorry.”
Jacqui Colyer, the new South Florida administrator for the Department of Children & Families, said she intends to discuss the girl’s case — and the proper treatment of abused and neglected children in court — with Eig next week.
”We will let him know more about the children we come in contact with every day, and how vulnerable each of the children are,” said Colyer, who reviewed transcripts of the hearing. “His language was a little bit harsher than you would ever want any child to hear from someone in authority.”
Colyer said she understood Lederman would be discussing Eig’s behavior with him as well, but Lederman declined to discuss the matter with a reporter.
In a statement released to The Miami Herald by the judiciary’s spokeswoman, Eunice Sigler, Eig expressed regret at the language he used to scold the teen.
”The child in this case had been running away,” Sigler wrote in a short statement. “Judge Eig regrets that the language he used was strong, but it was his intention to try to warn the child about the dangers of life on the street, and what people could do to her. His intention was to help, not harm.”
The girl, who is not being identified by The Herald to protect her privacy, entered state care after her mother’s chronic drug abuse led to persistent neglect. The mother’s rights to raise the girl were terminated.
The girl had been living with a school bus driver under the authority of DCF. In recent weeks, caseworkers testified, she ran away from the home, though she continued to go to school every morning.
At the hearing Tuesday, Eig asked the girl why she ran away. At first, she replied, ”’Cause she mean.” But a few moments later, she told the judge the woman hit her and cursed at her.
Eig told the teen she had no better alternatives. ”It’s time for you to get over whatever bad experiences you had,” he said, adding that she would be treated worse the next place that child welfare administrators sent her.
“You’re going to keep your stuff in a box and every few months someone’s going to be mean to you. Then you’re going to get upset about it, and you’re going to yell and scream, and then, unlike regular children, which they wait for to calm down, they’re going to call the police and going to come and [involuntarily commit] you.
”Then they’re going to hold you in a psychiatric ward and pump drugs into you,” he continued. “That’s the future you’re buying for yourself. . . . No one’s going to love you. . . .”
Child welfare sources who have looked into the hearing say the girl was crying the whole time. An administrator of another agency said their worker reported the girl was “hysterical.”
Experts in judicial ethics said the judge’s remarks were inappropriate, even if he was trying to scare the teen into making better choices.
Bob Jarvis, a professor of legal and judicial ethics at Nova Southeastern University’s law school, said a judge — who sits up on a pedestal in an intimidating black robe — can do real psychological harm to a child in court. And, by definition, children in child welfare court already have been the victims of abuse or neglect.
”For children in dependency hearings, it’s such an unpleasant experience to begin with,” Jarvis said. “Then to be castigated in this way has the potential to do much more serious long-term damage.”