283 – Why A Special Court for CSEC Victims, with Judge Joanne Motoike

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Dr. Sandie Morgan is joined by the Honorable Judge Joanne Motoike to discuss GRACE Court, a collaborative court designed to provide services to CSEC victims and rehabilitate them to be reintegrated back into the community.

Honorable Joanne Motoike

The Honorable Joanne Motoike serves as an associate justice of the 4th District Court of Appeal, Division 3. Previously, she was the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court in Orange County, California where she also oversaw a unique collaborative court for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation called GRACE Court. She has also served as a senior deputy public defender at the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, and as a trial attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague.

Key Points

  • GRACE (Generating Resources to Abolish Child Exploitation) Court was developed to provide youth and families with services as they went through the legal process in their cases.
  • Juvenile Court is done with the mindset of rehabilitation of the youth coming through the court system to reduce the recidivism rates of that population. In comparison, Criminal Court is designed to punish in order to deter further conduct.
  • GRACE Court is a speciality collaborative court to address the specific needs of CSEC victims.
  • To start a collaborative CSEC court, start with contacting law enforcement and other key stakeholders that will play a significant role in providing services to potential victims.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 283, Why A Special Court for CSEC Victims, with Judge Joanne Motoike.

Production Credits [00:00:12] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:37] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, today a wonderful partner with us to really help us to understand more on the legal side of our work. And of course, so much of our work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice is about building partnerships across the legal community, law enforcement, government, so many wonderful experts that we’ve been able to talk with. And today, an expert that will help us to really get even more perspective on what happens inside the courtrooms. I’m so glad to welcome the Honorable Joanne Motoike. She serves as an associate justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeals Division Three. Previously, she was the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court in Orange County, California, where she also oversaw a unique collaborative court for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation called the GRACE Court. She has also served as a senior deputy public defender at the Orange County Public Defender’s Office and as a trial attorney in the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague. Judge Motoike, welcome to our show today.

Joanne [00:01:56] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Sandie [00:01:59] I’m excited about this conversation. First of all, congratulations on your appointment as an associate judge of the Fourth District Court of Appeal. That’s so impressive. And I just love what I know you’ll be able to accomplish in this new role. But today we’re going to talk about your experience as presiding judge in juvenile court in Orange County and working in GRACE Court. So if you could start by explaining what GRACE Court is, that would be a great start.

Joanne [00:02:37] Thank you, Sandie. And thanks again for the congratulations. I’m really honored to be in this new position. But serving as a juvenile presiding court judge also gave me a lot of opportunities that I will never forget. Grace Court stands for generating resources to abolish child exploitation, and it is a collaborative court that was started in about 2014 by the former juvenile court presiding judge, the Honorable Maria Hernandez, who I know, Dr. Morgan, you’ve had on the show before. The court was started because there were several legislative and basically community changes that were going on surrounding the issues of human trafficking. In particularly, CSEC victims in our county and in our state and actually across the United States. As listeners probably know, back in 2000, there were federal laws to address the trafficking of persons that was passed in 2000. And then moving forward, since that date, California took its own actions, and in 2014 in particular, they had passed additional bills that allowed the dependency petition, meaning a child welfare petition, whereas a petition that involves the family. Normally the children would come into our court system as alleged victims of abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian. And in 2014, the law in California expanded that to include the victims of human trafficking. So petitions could be filed to bring in victims of human trafficking into our child welfare courts to hopefully get the support and services for that family in need. So there were several things going on legislatively in the state. And then in particular in Orange County, we also were tasked with creating a CSEC program which was also legislatively set in 2014. And as well as developing CSEC and inter-agency protocols with our community providers and stakeholders of the juvenile court. So all of those changes prompted Judge Hernandez to look into establishing a collaborative court that is now called GRACE Court and has been up and running since 2014, I have to say quite successfully with dealing in particular with victims of human trafficking.

Sandie [00:05:03] So that’s a lot for our listeners to comprehend. And we’re going to break it down just a little bit. First of all, I think one of the things that shocks me frequently is the lack of understanding of the difference between our juvenile justice system and our criminal justice system. And you and I both know that these kids that often end up in commercially sexually exploited situations have come with a lot of different problems and are often seen by community members as problem kids or kids that need more discipline or more of this or more of that. But we don’t see them as criminals. So maybe give us a primer on the difference between juvenile justice and criminal justice.

Joanne [00:05:59] Yes, there is a lot to take in. So, juvenile justice, formerly called delinquency courts, operates completely differently with a different mindset. The criminal courts are designed to be deterrence. They’re designed to basically give a consequence, a punishment in order to deter future conduct. The juvenile courts were always designed with the idea of rehabilitation, first and foremost, because by achieving rehabilitation, then you can reduce the community impact of the behavior that brought the children before us that are coming into juvenile court. You can reduce the number of recidivism for that particular population. And because we always approach our youth with that mindset of youth are always developing. They’re always continuing to grow. They can learn from their consequences and then move forward and become successful adults. So juvenile court operates with a public safety mindset, but also geared towards rehabilitation, looking at particular services and programs to support the family and the youth. Because as we all know, there are environmental factors that may come into play in bringing youth before the juvenile court system. There are mental health factors. There are all kinds of factors that could play into a youth coming into the juvenile system. And the juvenile system has always been designed to provide services and support for that family and the youth so that there can be successful reintegration into the community and a reduction of the recidivism rate.

Sandie [00:07:38] So that sounds marvelous and in and of itself is exactly what I would want for my CSEC kids. So why do we need a special court? Why do we need GRACE Court?

Joanne [00:07:50] Our Orange County has always operated with what we call specialty collaborative courts. I see juvenile court as a collaborative court overall because as I said, the goal is to provide rehabilitation through services and programs in support of the youth and the family who come into our courtrooms. So we’ve always worked towards having these specialty collaborative courts, meaning these courts that operate to address certain populations of youth who are coming into our court. We have a teen court program that services high risk, high needs youth who are duly involved or singularly involved in the child welfare system. And by dually involved, I mean they’re in the juvenile justice system, as well as the child welfare system. So we have that specialty collaborative court. There’s another collaborative court that we have that is youth development court. And that court is designed to address our– In California, Prop 57 our youth who have serious or violent offenses, and they could possibly be transferred to adult court. But we’ve instead decided to keep them in our juvenile court system because of the level of offense. There is a specialty court called youth development court to hopefully provide community based services in transition to help with the reentry of that youth into their communities. Because typically those youth are serving longer periods of time in our juvenile facilities. And we have, of course, a recovery court program, which addresses youth who have substance use issues. So in 2014, because of all of these legislative changes and recognition of these child victims with respect to human trafficking, Judge Hernandez believed that because our existing specialty collaborative courts were operating so well and were successful, that a collaborative court was needed to address the specific needs of this population, just as we address the specific needs of our teen court population. Youth development court wasn’t in play then, but our recovery court, our substance use population. So she brought together all of the particular players that are in the court and outside in the community to participate in this court to bring together the specific services that were trauma-informed and supportive of CSEC victims.

Sandie [00:10:13] So when I first heard the name GRACE Court, I thought, Oh, that is such a sweet name. And I was excited to go. And I want to describe for our listeners what it felt like to go into a court and there’s no judge up in that high bench area. And instead the judge is sitting at a table and the youth is sitting across from the judge. And then over on one side there’s one or two or three different kinds of attorneys. I didn’t even know what they all were. There’s a bailiff, there’s someone recording. There’s a row full of social workers and child welfare people and probation people, and there’s even a support dog. And I think I counted 14 and I was so impressed to see how many people were supporting one child. And then the name GRACE Court completely changed for me because the “GR” is generating resources. Tell me who the members of the collaborative team are and how that brings about a better outcome.

Joanne [00:11:34] You’re right, Dr. Morgan. I think there’s probably at least a minimum of 14 people in the courtroom. And that does not include our support dog, who is a very vital member of our team. The GRACE Court team is made up of obviously the court, the probation department, the social services agency, the health care agency. We have a CASA, our child advocates support that are here in Orange County. We have, I’m blanking now because it’s been a little bit.

Sandie [00:12:07] Oh, yeah. Our public defender.

Joanne [00:12:08] Public defender. Our district attorney. Thank you, Dr. Morgan. Our Department of Education liaison. We have community partners such as Project Choice. They’re a community-based organization that is specifically geared towards CSEC victims. And we have our victim advocates. And Dr. Morgan, am I missing anybody?

Sandie [00:12:32] No, I think you’ve got it. I think you got it. It’s like having a choir.

Joanne [00:12:38] It is. It is. But it is always and I always stress this to each of the GRACE Court participants. That is their team. That is their individual support team. All of those folks play a vital role in every single component of every thing that youth may need. And if the youth doesn’t need all of that, that’s fine, too. You know, we’re there when they need us.

Sandie [00:13:03] So what is the way that they access all of these resources in a court situation?

Joanne [00:13:11] So when a youth comes into the court and again, it depends on the type of case, but typically it is usually in a child welfare case, it’s where they want to come to court, they’ll come to court and they can access immediately because by way of our team discussion to support that youth, they can access whatever they may need at that given moment. That all of the team is available, and I hate to say this 24/7, but there are some pretty dedicated team members who will pick up that phone at midnight or at three in the morning when that youth is in crisis or in need. And we always have group emails, everybody is on an email thread if something is going on with that particular youth. If that youth needs to come into court earlier, then we try to schedule it so everybody can be available and we can come in. There is just a lot of support inside the court and then outside the court for each participant.

Sandie [00:14:09] I was really impressed observing the team work and it did feel like it was very well orchestrated as people would step up and say, well, we can do this. And I think part of the beauty of GRACE Court is the burden doesn’t all fall on one person. It is a shared responsibility and the complex issues can be overwhelming. And I think having a team approach is in the best interest of the youth.

Joanne [00:14:46] Absolutely. Absolutely correct, Dr. Morgan.

Sandie [00:14:50] So, okay, so we know this is working. And when I travel and I tell people about it, the first thing they ask me is, well, how do we set one up? So if someone wanted just to be pointed in the right direction because I know it’d take us two or 3 hours to lay this out, how would you advise them for starting a collaborative court for CSEC?

Joanne [00:15:14] I think it starts as Dr. Morgan, you know, when Orange County started GRACE Court, I think it starts with law enforcement. You really have to talk to law enforcement, and that may be community providers coming together and engaging with their law enforcement to basically get them on board with respect to what is going to start happening in the courts. And the reason I say that is because Orange County has the task force and that task force supports the court in a way that allows the youth to be recognized. Probation should be immediately identified and notified if a CSEC victim is contacted by law enforcement and in need of services and assistance. So law enforcement really is on the ground and they’re the beginning of what sets the stage for GRACE Court. Because whether it’s law enforcement and a juvenile justice involved youth or whether it’s a social service agency and a child welfare involved, or whether it’s both agencies that are on the ground at the scene contacting the youth in the family and determining that this possibly this youth is at risk or a CSEC victim, than they start the ball rolling. And then what happens is there are several, what I call MDT, multidisciplinary team meetings that come together before the case even comes to GRACE Court. So I would engage the child welfare agency in your county. I would engage law enforcement in your county and then get the courts involved as well as the stakeholders. And that means youth counsel, parents counsel, the district attorney is usually going to be informed with the law enforcement portion, the probation department, and then start gathering the community resources that you’re going to need to also provide support, like you said, Dr. Morgan. It doesn’t fall on one shoulder. It’s involvement of all of the agencies to support that particular youth. So it really is a big undertaking, but it can be done. As you know, there are many counties now in California that have similar courts like GRACE Court. I mean, Los Angeles County, I think was one of the first courts that started with STAR Court and then Orange County. And now we are asked, well, normally I was asked in Orange County to go and speak at other counties to talk about how GRACE Court started and the mechanics of getting it started. So there are a lot of resources here in California that I’m sure would be willing to work or at least share information about how things can get started for a collaborative court such as this.

Sandie [00:18:05] So can you give us an encouraging success story?

Joanne [00:18:09] Yes. There have been a couple where we have actually in GRACE Court had true victims of CSEC and they were able through GRACE Court and the support services to, for lack of a better word, graduate out of the system to transition out of the child welfare system. And one of them was even dually involved in the juvenile justice system and was able to get her complete record cleared on the juvenile justice side. And then on the child welfare side, she was able to transition completely into independent living and full time employment, completely breaking that cycle of the trafficker.

Sandie [00:18:51] And that’s what is the beauty of GRACE Court is seeing that end result. But it is not an overnight experience. It takes a huge team and a lot of work. The last time I visited the court a couple of months ago, one of the participants had just started college and it just emphasizes how important it is to have a community of support around someone recovering from this kind of abuse. And when we think about that in terms of our families, our communities, we often think about a nuclear family. But even in a nuclear family, there’s a neighbor, there’s a school teacher, there’s a sports coach. And this idea of multiple members of a team in a child’s development is a normal part of community growth for our kids and supporting that is critical to their good outcomes. I want to go back to one of the most surprising things about starting a collaborative court. You said the first person or the first people you reach out to are law enforcement and my partner at the Global Center, the associate director Derek Marsh is retired law enforcement and he always calls me a tree hugger. So I always think it’s the tree huggers that start this thing. But it is really critical for those of us who want to do something with that great sounding name like GRACE to understand that this kind of court has legislative connections. There’s lots of legal requirements and reaching out to law enforcement as a partner has to be part of the very foundation. How do you go about, I mean, Orange County we already had a task force, but how would you recommend finding law enforcement partners in other counties where you visited but they don’t have a task force?

Joanne [00:21:09] Well, what has happened, Dr. Morgan, is that, you know, just to be clear, the court can’t necessarily engage with the law enforcement, but I think the community can and the stakeholders can. But in Orange County, as you said, we already had the task force and so GRACE Court coming on board was another part of that bigger puzzle that we needed to put together. And Judge Hernandez did that well. So for other counties, when I have gone to speak about how GRACE Court operates, we have always brought or I’ve actually been asked because law enforcement’s already made that connection with our task force. So our task force is already established the communication and established that the other county is interested in doing something like this because there is training that is ongoing for law enforcement agencies because, as you can probably recall, what, ten, 20 years ago, actually probably more than that, there was a completely different mindset in law enforcement and across the board in the court system as to how we treat victims of human trafficking. And so I think that if law enforcement in your county is somewhat interested, then it would be helpful to kind of reach out to a county that has an established task force to start those conversations and start the training that would be required for the officers on the street to engage with CSEC victims.

Sandie [00:22:37] So as we wind down here, I know that we have success stories. I know that GRACE Court is working, but there are gaps that remain. What else do we need to do for our kids?

Joanne [00:22:53] I love that you asked me that question. There’s so many things more that we could be doing for our kids. Yeah. Do we have enough time, Dr. Morgan?

Sandie [00:23:01] You’ve got 5 minutes. You can probably put your top three in.

Joanne [00:23:05]  I will say for GRACE Court participants in particular, the youth really need placement. They need placement options. Quite often, the placement or immediate return home to a parent or family is not a viable option for numerous reasons. And I’m not saying that it’s not going to happen, but we’re always working towards reunification. But during this process of immediately addressing the youth’s issues, we have found that placement options are very, very limited. And I’m not talking about just in Orange County. It’s a statewide, it’s a national problem that we do not have enough placement options for our youth involved in our child welfare system and even in our juvenile justice system for those who may need placement in that system as well. Additionally, there are, as you said, a lot of our youth coming before us, there are complex issues with respect to their trauma and a variety and multitude of mental health issues and getting the appropriate services and even residential treatment that the youth may need geared towards also the CSEC particular issues that they’re facing, those are gaps because we just do not have a lot of those services and programs for identified CSEC victims with respect to substance abuse issues or high level mental health issues. So I could go on and on. But those are the two main issues that I think I dealt with every day in GRACE Court when I presided over that court.

Sandie [00:24:46] Those sound like mountains, but we are building better and better resources to surround our kids. I know that here in Orange County, our child welfare is expanding resource parent resources. It sounds redundant, but now we’re beginning to change the language from foster to resource parent and creating a culture of making sure that resource parents have everything they need for the unique situation of taking a child into their home with complex trauma. And it has been a wonderful experience working with child welfare to see how some of the resources are really inspiring, like equine therapy and finding that this isn’t going to be all on you to become the only resource as a parent in this particular circumstance. So I’m encouraged by where we’re growing with that. The substance use issue, Judge. I have looked and looked and I don’t see promising practices at this point. And so I’m hopeful that there will be more research and more resources in that respect very, very soon.

Joanne [00:26:23] Yes, hopefully. And I do recognize that Orange County, as you mentioned, Dr. Morgan, I think that they are taking steps, like you said, with respect to the resource families and trying to engage more families and becoming those.

Sandie [00:26:37] So as we wrap this up, I want to thank you for having been one of our regular Ensure Justice speakers. Every March, at Vanguard we host the Ensure Justice conference. And as a direct result of your questions about the needs in this population, last year, our March 2023 conference will be called Finding a Way Home, and our focus will be on resource parents, on placements, kinship models and other opportunities so that we can grow that particular aspect of our support for our kids in GRACE Court here in Orange County and be a model for beyond. So thank you so much for inspiring us.

Joanne [00:27:37] Thank you. I am looking forward to that, Dr. Morgan, and that’s exciting to know.

Dave [00:27:43] Thank you both for this conversation. You know, Sandie, I think back to when we first started this show, we decided on the word ending versus some other term and that it is a process. We’re all continually doing things that will help. And as we’ve heard in this conversation today, so much has been done. Thank you Judge Motoike on your leadership and also so much yet to do. And we’re inviting you to take that next step with us, to help us to be part of the community of advocates. I hope you’ll take that first step if you haven’t already to go online and download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking will teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And in addition, you may decide if you’ve been listening for a bit to support us by becoming a patron. You can access exclusive content and join a community of advocates. If you’d like to find out more, go to endinghumantrafficking.org. Click on the Patreon link and you’ll get access to new content. Membership is a very simple, straightforward. You can become a patron for only $5 a month. Access to all of our benefits. Of course, you can give more if you’d like, but just go over to endinghumantrafficking.org for more. And if you’re already supporting the show as a patron, thank you so much for your support. You are part of our partnership as we’ve talked about so many times on the show. Sandie, sown the importance of partnership. Thank you for your partnership and continuing to support our work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University. We will be back in two weeks with our next conversation. Always a pleasure, Sandie. Thanks.

Sandie [00:29:31] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:29:33] Have a great day, everyone. Take care.

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