Judge was too quick to find contempt and too slow to write opinions, ethics complaint says

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An ethics complaint filed Tuesday against a Philadelphia family court judge claims that the judge was too quick to fine or jail people for contempt but too slow to write opinions in cases involving child abuse and neglect.

The ethics complaint against Judge Lyris Younge was filed after state appeals courts ruled that she had failed to provide due process in one case in which she terminated parental rights and another in which she removed three children from the home of their mother. Law360 and the Philadelphia Inquirer have coverage.

Due process was one of the concerns in the ethics complaint.

The complaint cited an instance in August 2017 in which Younge ordered a father jailed for seven days after hearing evidence that he had called his children 10 times per day and met with them after court hearings. Younge said he violated her order allowing limited, supervised visitation, although her order didn’t mention phone calls.

The ethics complaint said Younge also failed to provide due process when she ordered the jailing of a mother until her granddaughter was delivered to the custody of social workers.

Even when she held a contempt hearing, Younge failed to give the targeted lawyer notice of the hearing date, the ethics opinion said. Younge proceeded with the hearing, even though the lawyer had no witnesses present and fined him $750.

Younge also failed to allow testimony by everyone with a stake in the legal outcome of proceedings before her, the ethics complaint said. In one instance, she allowed a mother who said she felt ill to leave the courtroom. She refused to allow the woman’s lawyer to check on her and said she would not allow the woman to reenter the courtroom to testify.

Younge later claimed—more than once—that the woman had left the courtroom without permission. “Even if she was sick, she should have had the courtesy to let me know that,” Younge said at one point. “So her disdain for the court has been noted.” Younge terminated the woman’s parental rights.

And during several hearings, she displayed an improper demeanor, according to the ethics complaint.

“Younge repeatedly spoke harshly, yelled, screamed and berated attorneys, social workers and others who appeared before her,” the complaint alleged.

In one hearing, Young changed the goal from reunification to adoption and “impatiently responded” when a lawyer pointed out that there was no petition for a goal change, the ethics complaint said. As the lawyer continued to seek clarification, Younge “screamed” at the lawyer and “displayed an angry, arrogant, condescending tone of voice.”

In another hearing, Younge rolled her eyes and exhibited “disdainful and sarcastic facial expressions,” the complaint said.

Younge was also accused of showing “inordinate delay” when writing opinions in cases involving alleged child abuse or neglect and termination of parental rights, delaying the fast-track appeals process.

State law requires opinions to be filed within 30 days after a notice of appeal is filed. One opinion was 261 days late, another was 197 days late, and another was 192 days late, according to the complaint.

Young was reassigned last July to a statutory appeals section of the court’s civil division. Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board is seeking Younge’s interim suspension, with or without pay, while the ethics case proceeds.

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