Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Client: How States Are Profiting from the Child's Right to Protection

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Client: How States Are Profiting from the Child's Right to Protection

Article excerpt

"[S]omehow in the midst of this barrage of laws and code sections and motions and legal talk the kid was supposed to know what was happening to him. It was hopelessly unfair." - John Grisham, The Client1

I.Introduction

John Grisham's The Client introduces the reader to eleven-yearold Mark sway, a street-smart kid from a broken home who thinks he can handle anything until he witnesses the suicide of lawyer W. Jerome "Romey" Clifford.2 Mark is in the woods behind his home teaching his eight-year-old little brother, Ricky, how to smoke cigarettes when Romey drives his shiny black Lincoln to a nearby spot, hooks a hose to his exhaust pipe, and runs it through a crack in his left rear window.3 Romey means to kill himself because he has become a liability to his client, a mobster who has murdered a senator, but Mark thwarts his plans by loosening the hose from the exhaust pipe. 4 Drunk and distraught, Romey catches and imprisons Mark in his car and, just before he puts a gun to his mouth and takes his own life, burdens Mark with a deadly secret: the location of the Senator's body.5 In the aftermath, Mark must deal with a catatonic little brother who saw too much; law enforcement officials who deduce that the lawyer told Mark his secret and want him to divulge the information; and members of the Mafia, who also surmise that Mark knows too much and want to permanently silence him.6 Mark has to dodge both law enforcement and the Mafia to keep his secret, and he is running scared. It is an engrossing tale and a fun read.

As The Client progresses, the reader is caught up in Mark's struggle: he wants to disclose his secret to the law enforcement officials, but the Mafia burning his house down and physically threatening him dissuades him. 7 When he refuses to tell anyone what he knows, the officers investigate his background and find a poor kid from a trailer park whose single mother often leaves him and his brother alone while she works long hours at a factory. To make him talk, the law enforcement officials attempt to use the legal system to their advantage. They plot to haul Mark before the juvenile court and allege either that his refusal to assist the investigation constitutes misconduct or to report that his mother neglects him and he needs court protection "for his own safety."8 Either way will force a hearing in Juvenile Court, and the officials can use the time before the judge rules to corner Mark while he is alone in detention and make him talk.9 Luckily, Mark finds Reggie Love, a shrewd attorney who graduated from Memphis State Law School10 only four years prior, who has made it her mission to help abused and neglected kids.11 For a nominal $1 fee, Reggie protects Mark from the overreach of the law enforcement officers throughout the court proceedings and eventually helps to guide his family free from harm into the witness protection program. 12 Without Reggie, Mark would have faced the child protection system on his own, and probably to a different outcome.

Because of changes in child welfare legislation since Grisham published The Client, Mark might also have faced a different result if his story took place today. Mark's ordeal occurred in 1993, at a time when the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act13 was in effect. That Act favored family preservation and required states to use "reasonable efforts" to keep biological families intact.14 But things have since changed. If officials hauled Mark into court today, he would likely face removal from his family because of their troubled history. He would likely spend time in the foster care system, an industry that exploits the very persons in its care for financial profit. That is because now the Adoption and Safe Families Act,15 which mandates speedier hearings and termination of parental rights, controls. Under the current framework, "child protection" often outweighs family preservation efforts, as more than 250,000 children annually become new wards of the state. …

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