Three strikes for Arlington judge?

Tomorrow in Richmond, members of the General Assembly’s Courts of Justice Committees will hear public testimony to help them decide whether a group of Virginia judges should be recommended for reappointment to the bench. One of those judges, whose term expires Jan. 31, 2011, is Arlington Domestic and Juvenile Relations Court Judge Esther Wiggins Lyles, the same judge who terminated the parental rights of Nancy Hey and Benita Washington despite the fact that neither of these mothers were ever charged – let alone convicted – of child abuse or neglect. After their children were snatched by Arlington social workers, Judge Wiggins Lyles rubber-stamped their legal kidnapping.

 She’s still at it.

 Next Tuesday at 10:20 am, Judge Wiggins Lyles has scheduled a hearing to terminate the parental rights of Tiffany Johnson, whose one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Talayah, has been in the county’s custody since she was three months old.

 Court documents filed by the county on Nov. 30 and obtained by The Examiner admit that “at the time of the removal…Talayah appeared physically healthy,” and do not list any evidence of abuse or neglect on Johnson’s part beyond vague “concerns surrounding Ms. Johnson’s basic parenting skills.” Yet the 26-year-old mom, herself a former foster child who has a job and is living in subsidized housing, is within days of losing her daughter forever.

 On July 20, guardian ad litem Ellen Dague submitted another document to the court noting that Talayeh was returned to her mother for a brief period in September, 2009 but “was removed a second time because mother was too overwhelmed with her commitments.”

 Is being frazzled the new standard for having your child taken away by Arlington’s Child Protective Services, whose own website says that children are only removed from their homes if they are “at risk of serious harm”? If being “overwhelmed with commitments” is the new definition of neglect, nobody’s kids are safe.

 Last year, before the same legislative panel, veteran attorney Roy Morris blasted then Chief Judge Wiggins Lyles’ handling of a custody case he represented in which she completely terminated a mother’s contact with her five-year-old daughter. “I’ve never seen a worst run court in all my years of [litigation] experience,” Morris told legislators on Dec. 21, 2009. “My client was dragged into the Virginia court even though Virginia didn’t have jurisdiction… Why would a judge have taken a case that they didn’t even have jurisdiction to hear?”

 And in a Dec. 8 letter to Arlington Chief Circuit Court Judge William Newman, Dr. Sheila Mannix, co-founder of Illinois Family Court Accountability Advocates, noted that Johnson’s case “evinces the patterns of practice of alleged offenses against the criminal laws of the United States” that is the subject of a Sept. 14 federal court order in Chicago, warning that “Freedom of Information Act requests will be forthcoming to investigate if the misappropriation of federal funds has fueled the removal of this child from her mother without just cause.”

 This is more than enough reasonable doubt for legislators to decide that this judge needs to step down.

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