It’s been a hectic year for family court Judge Judith B. Sheindlin--and a rising caseload in her New York courtroom is only part of the story.
Prompted by a Times profile (“Law and Disorder,” View, Feb. 14, 1993), television’s “60 Minutes” did a story on the tough-talking judge, and she was inundated with letters from across the nation. Some writers commended Sheindlin for her no-nonsense brand of juvenile justice; others blasted her as a hot-headed jurist who has no business dealing with children.
“So what else is new?” she says. Nothing much, to judge from her 1993 activities. To the consternation of liberal child-welfare advocates, Sheindlin has continued her politically incorrect crusade against welfare hustlers, foster-care bureaucrats and other players who, she says, have made a mockery of the family court system.
“We need to get tough with people who scam the system, including kids and parents and lazy bureaucrats. But the political people who run these programs are into empire-building,” she says.
It’s the kind of talk that’s gotten Sheindlin into political hot water before, but she apparently couldn’t care less.
Indeed, in a series of controversial 1993 cases, Sheindlin skewered officials of the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City and other groups that are reimbursed by the city and state for providing physical and speech therapy to children with special needs. Curious about the annual $40,000 tuition bill some of those groups submit for a few hours of therapy each week for a toddler, Sheindlin did some digging of her own and learned that many children rarely showed up for the therapy. In some cases, she claimed that they received nothing more than free day care at taxpayers’ expense.
Sheindlin blistered UCP attorneys and special-needs school officials when they appeared before her. They, in turn, deplored her unprecedented attack on their programs and denied any improprieties.. In one case, UCP attorneys conceded that a “billing error” had been made, but they also indicated their intention to appeal Sheindlin’s action in throwing out a series of claims.
“There’s always a danger when big charity becomes big business,” she says.
Not too many judges blast special-needs providers, but it was all a warm-up for Sheindlin’s latest crusade--this time against “soft-headed” juvenile-justice bureaucrats. She agreed to join a 15-member state panel on juvenile crime created by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, but only if she could submit a minority report when the blue-ribbon commission completes its investigations next year.
Sheindlin continues to speak out bluntly about child abuse, delinquency and the deterioration of American families.
“There are just too many of these kids,” she snaps. “People don’t like to hear anybody say it, but I’ll say it. At some point, we all just have to say: ‘Enough, already.’ ”