Sol Gothard Lifetime Achievement
2012 Sol Gothard Lifetime Achievement Award –
Richard Ducote, JD
I was first elected Juvenile Court Judge in Jefferson Parish, La., in 1972, some 40 years ago. Two years later, I hired Richard as a probation officer. He asked if he could go to law school at night. I told him that in 1958, I did the same thing when I was hired as a probation officer in the New Orleans Juvenile Court. My judge, Leo Blessing, allowed me flexibility so that I could attend Law School in the evening and also maintain a full time job. I did the same for Richard, and he worked Saturdays, holidays and other unusual times (as I also had done) to fulfill his obligations to the Court.
And he more than fulfilled the required obligations and duties…much more!! From the beginning of his tenure with the Juvenile Court, he was a different kind of probation officer. He brought original and innovative ideas regarding what we should be doing to help children, particularly abused and neglected children.
In 1978, while still a probation officer, he obtained a considerable grant and created a specialized program to train attorneys to represent and work in behalf of abuse and neglected children in my court. I forget how much money Richard was awarded, but in the use of these funds, there was no graft or scandal. Now that is pretty damned good for the State of Louisiana at that time; in fact, it was outstanding. (No joke about Louisiana Judges!) The other 2 judges in the Court were skeptical, saying that no lawyer would show up, on his/her own time, without compensation, on a Saturday morning, no less! Yet, as Richard had predicted about 40 lawyers showed up to volunteer. They were all specially-trained and then worked for free to represent these otherwise voiceless children. This project developed the Tulane
University School of Law – Juvenile Law Clinic, which was one of only four in the country to be nationally recognized by the federal government for its innovative court improvements.
Thus began Richard’s life-long career of, for the most part, representing victims of child abuse and domestic violence. Richard claims I had an influence on him. I don’t know how true this is, but in classic Jewish thought there is a Midrash, a teaching, that says that a parent is a success when his child surpasses him, and this was certainly the case with Richard. Richard has written numerous learned and influential articles, published nationally, and cited in court decisions, I know this to be true, because I have read these articles and cases and have used them in my teaching. He has won many awards such as the one he is receiving today, from a variety of organizations, such as the Battered Women’s Conference, NASW, and many others. He has presented at major conferences and trained members of every profession, lawyers, police, social workers, psychologists, teachers, and especially judges, dealing with a multitude of issues including: child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and related issues such as the reliability of children’s memory , the so-called “false memory syndrome” and the even worse, the so-called “parental alienation syndrome.” He has testified before many state legislatures, including committees of the U.S. Congress and has successfully written laws that have been enacted in many states. He has been on national television. And he even had an actor portray him in a movie about the nationally known trial and subsequent jail term of Dr. Elizabeth Morgan. Richard had been her attorney. She hid her young daughter from the father who, beyond any doubt in the minds of most of us (but not 2 different judges involved in the case) had sexually abused his daughter in the past. There was also evidence that he had done this to a child from a previous marriage. Dr. Morgan served over 2 years in jail for contempt of court…a longer sentence, than many, if not most, child abusers receive. Now I have never been on national television or testified before Congress or had a movie about me…remember what I said about a child surpassing his parent?
“…he continues his good work and his fight on behalf of victims of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence…in these matters, he is, in my opinion, the preeminent attorney in the country today.”
This is not to say that he is universally admired for these accomplishments! Shortly after leaving Court to go into private practice, he drafted a law regarding citizens’ review of children in foster care because too many children were, and still are, languishing in foster care, for many years, in what is supposed to be a short-term solution. Richard enlisted me to testify on behalf of the legislation, before the Louisiana Legislature and I and two other judges were opposed by the other approximate 75 other judges in the state who had jurisdiction over juvenile matters.
Not only was he intensely disliked for having the audacity to say that the judges and Courts were not protecting these children, but he succeeded in having me put on the Judges’ s— list as well. But you know something? The law passed! And, we both taught for many years at the National College of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. But, a certain few judges did blackball me from becoming an officer in the organization. That was the only election I ever lost. Thanks a lot, Richard! Because of Richard, I was in a movie, as was he, shown on public television, called “Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories.” It was about children’s experiences of abuse. It had a variety of victims, including Joe Torres, former manager of the N. Y. Yankees, the president and CEO of Parade magazine, and other prominent adults. There was an extreme reaction to this movie and it was cancelled after a short time and was not seen in the majority of the country. In fairness, though, it should have been more balanced. Soon afterwards, however, the so-called “Fathers’ Rights” groups started targeting me in some of their writings and monitoring my presentations, etc. Again, thanks a lot, Richard!
But they really went after Richard in a variety of vicious ways that I will not talk about here. They caused him a great deal of money, time, and anguish. I cannot emphasize enough the long, lonely battles he fought, as did other professionals who were also targeted. But, with tenacity, very hard work, and perseverance, he won every battle that I am aware of, and these mean-spirited people have almost, but not quite, given up. And, most importantly, he continues his good work and his fight on behalf of victims of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, as he refuses to be intimidated. In these matters, he is, in my opinion, the preeminent attorney in the country today.
So, this is a very brief and simplified insight into the man whom NOFSW honors today. You have chosen well, and I am grateful to you to present this tribute to my long-time friend and colleague, Richard Ducote.
I deeply appreciate your Sol Gothard Lifetime Achievement Award given to me on April 17. Judge Gothard’s support, confidence, and encouragement throughout my career were indispensable, and I thank him for the 36 years I have known him. NOFSW could not have selected a more iconic figure to embody lifetime achievement than Judge Gothard, who has always led a life of service, humanity, scholarship, leadership, inspiration, and courage. Few judges have so boldly challenged their own ranks to shed the bias, ignorance, complacency, and lethargy which have gravely disserved the abused, battered, and troubled appearing before them for redress daily. Now, long after his “retirement,” he continues to energize and shape the practical and intellectual debates confronting all of us in the classrooms and court rooms, with the same acuity and wit endearing him to us for decades. I also thank Dr. Viola Vaughan-Eden for nominating me, and for bringing to the field- locally, nationally, and internationally – a whirlwind of competence, integrity, and professional coalescence. So many are indebted to forensic social workers. Child sexual abuse victims would still be chained by the misguided Freudian psychiatrists, were it not for pioneering insightful social workers in the early 70’s. Special needs adoption would likewise be an alien notion, and effective therapeutic intervention for the traumatized would not exist, were it not for those in your profession. I thank you again for this honor, and hope to continue to work with you in the years ahead.