In January 2012, the presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court came into my chambers and informed me that I would be taking over a calendar in juvenile court later that year. Although I was excited to assume this new challenge, to be honest I was also a little apprehensive about transitioning into this new area of the law. I had never dealt with the child welfare system as an attorney, but I was excited to preside over cases in which I could try to make a positive difference in the lives of children in Maricopa County. Yet at that time, I had no idea how the kids that would come into my courtroom would impact my life in such a profound way.
It’s no secret to my family and friends that I have a big soft spot for children. I have been incredibly blessed to have two amazing kids, and my wife and I have been very fortunate to raise our children together with the assistance from our family members and close friends. Unfortunately, this isn’t every child’s experience. Circumstances, most often out of the control of the kids that come before me, result in them being placed in an environment without their parents. Several hours each week I read reports that detail how these kids have ended up in my courtroom. Their stories are often heartbreaking, but nothing has been able to adequately prepare me to walk into my courtroom and actually meet the children that I have read about in these reports. Once I enter the courtroom, these kids are no longer faceless names in a report. They are now in front of me, scared, confused and looking to me for help. Although it does not happen in every case, I try to have the kids in my cases attend their court hearings. I want to meet them, talk to them and find out what they would like me to do in order to make their lives better. I feel that this is especially important with the older children that I meet. I want the kids to know that they are my number one priority. Every decision I make in a case is focused on putting them in the best placement and providing them with the most beneficial services available.
It has been nearly four years since I began my service as a juvenile court judge. In that time I’ve discovered that the child welfare system isn’t perfect, but I have also discovered that the system does have a number of hard working and dedicated individuals who are committed to insure that each child in an out-of-home placement has the best care and services available. Additionally, I have been fortunate to meet some terrific foster families that have opened up their lives and homes to the neediest kids in our community. I am constantly amazed by the love and compassion that these foster parents have for the children that are placed in their care. Their personal sacrifice and willingness to put the needs and desires of these children before their own is truly inspirational to witness. The affect that the foster families have on the lives of these children is immeasurable to calculate. At the end of each court hearing, I try to bring the foster parents up to the bench so I can personally thank them for their invaluable assistance to child welfare process.
I start my day by taking the bench at 8:30 a.m. I’m usually finished with my last court hearing around 5:00 p.m. These days in court can be quite long and emotionally taxing, but at the end of most days I feel content that I have put forth my best effort to help the least among us. I can really do no less.
Judge James P. Beene
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge