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In re Abram L.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

September 4, 2013

In re ABRAM L. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff and Respondent,
ABEL L., Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. CK94529 Robert Stevenson, Referee.

Daniel G. Rooney, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

John F. Krattli, County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel and Peter Ferrera, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.



Appellant Abel L. (father) appeals the juvenile court’s dispositional order granting physical custody of his sons, Abram L. and Jacob L., to respondent Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) for suitable placement. The court removed the children from their biological mother, Juanita R. (mother), after she allegedly threatened them with physical harm. Because father was a noncustodial parent, the juvenile court was required to adjudicate his request for physical custody of the children pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.2.[1] Under the statute, father was entitled to physical custody of the children unless the juvenile court found that placement with father would be detrimental to the safety, protection, or physical or emotional well-being of the children. (§ 361.2, subd. (a).) The juvenile court, however, did not make an express finding of detriment as the statute requires (§ 361.2, subd. (c)), and it is unclear from the record whether the court considered the requirements of the statute before denying father’s request for custody of his children. We thus reverse the order and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


1. The Children’s Family

When this action commenced, Abram L. and Jacob L. were 15 and 13 years old, respectively. The two boys lived with mother, mother’s husband Francisco R. (stepfather), and their adult sister Andrea L., who was 19 years old. Pursuant to a family court order, mother had physical and legal custody of Abram and Jacob for more than 10 years.

Father lived with his girlfriend. Abram and Jacob visited father on Saturdays, approximately every two weeks.

2. History of Domestic Violence and Physical Abuse

Mother and stepfather had a history of domestic violence in the three years they had been together. The couple engaged in verbal confrontations about two times a day, which often involved name-calling. On about two occasions the arguments escalated to physical violence. In December 2011, mother pulled out a box cutter knife and threatened stepfather with it.

According to Abram, Jacob and Andrea, mother occasionally physically abused them by hitting them with objects, such as a broom or belt, and with her fists. Mother once beat Abram on his leg, chest and face with a belt because he refused to attend a youth church conference. When Abram was 13 years old, mother hit him with a broom, injuring his eye. According to Jacob, mother hit him with a belt more than five times. Jacob also claimed that mother hit him with a stick when he was seven or eight years old. Andrea claimed that mother hit her with a metal pipe on one occasion, and with a broom on another.

Underlying mother’s abuse of her children was her struggle with mental health. Father believed that mother had a “problem in her brain.” He claimed that mother would say, “I want to kill you” if someone disagreed with her. Jacob described mother as “psychotic” and having a “loose screw in there.” Abram described her as a “psycho.” According to mother’s adult daughter, Emily E., mother was “paranoid.” Mother’s sister stated that mother would be happy one day, and “down and sleeping all day, another day.” The children’s maternal grandmother stated that mother “has mood swings, and easily goes from being very lovable to being very angry, within a split second.”

Approximately four months before these proceedings began, after mother hit Abram with a belt and Andrea with a metal pipe, Abram and Andrea left mother’s home and went to stay with father and his girlfriend. About three months later, however, Abram and Andrea returned to live with mother because of conflicts they had with father’s girlfriend.

3. July 6, 2012, Incident

On July 6, 2012, mother and Andrea had a verbal altercation at home. Mother broke a mirror, grabbed a piece of broken glass, and threatened to stab Andrea and Abram with it. At one point, mother also threatened to stab Abram with a knife. Andrea and mother called the police, who arrived at the scene and arrested mother for child endangerment. The Department temporarily detained Abram and Jacob and placed them in foster care.

4. The Juvenile Dependency Petition and Initial Court Hearing and Order

On July 11, 2012, the Department filed a juvenile dependency petition requesting the juvenile court to take jurisdiction over Abram and Jacob pursuant to section 300, subdivisions (a), (b) and (j). All of the counts in the petition except one concerned mother’s alleged acts or omissions. Count b-6 alleged that father had a history of using illicit drugs and was a ...

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