Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Ed Edelman may have left us last week, but his amazing legacy lives on. Ed’s long career in government at the city and county level was one of great distinction. He served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1965 to 1974 and on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from 1974 to 1994.
His work contributed to the arts, the environment and, most particularly, to those in need. He played a large role in developing the county’s AIDS program, the Homeless Services Authority and a revamped Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
During his tenure on the Board of Supervisors, several new courthouses were built. I was fortunate to work in three of them: the Hollywood courthouse in his district in 1986, the Van Nuys courthouse in his district in 1989, and a third, which was not located in his district but which bears his name.
The Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court opened in Monterey Park, Calif., in July 1992. I served there from the day it opened until my retirement from the bench in January 2015. The Children’s Court was built because of Ed’s advocacy. He said that it was important for Los Angeles County to have a courthouse that was friendly and sensitive to the needs of abused and neglected children whose cases are heard in our juvenile dependency courts. The Children’s Court was then and still is today the most unique court of its kind in the world.
With its 25 courtrooms, the Children’s Court sits at the top of a hill with a panoramic view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Except for a small satellite court in the Antelope Valley, it hears all of L.A. County’s cases of abuse and neglect of children. Currently, there are approximately 30,000 children under the court’s jurisdiction compared to close to 60,000 in 1992.
Ed’s vision for a child-sensitive facility was accomplished in three ways. First, everything about the court — from its title to its design, décor and services — sends the message that this is a facility that is about and for children and families. Second, these same features, which include the courtrooms, the children’s waiting area known as shelter care and the open, spacious and bright public waiting area, make the courthouse comfortable and friendly to the children, families and others who must be there. Third, recognizing that every child who comes to the court is a victim of abuse and/or neglect, a child-friendly courthouse that values them, welcomes then and listens to them, can contribute to the healing process that they all must go through.
Along with the courthouse itself, Ed and his colleagues set up a fund of money collected through fees from the adjacent parking structure to support projects benefiting children and families as well as to maintain the sparkling nature of the court. Over the years, it has helped fund programs such as 211 Line, Comfort for Court Kids (the teddy bear program), refurbishments to the court, trainings and more. The fund is managed by the court, but its use is determined by a committee consisting of the court, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), DCFS, the Los Angeles County Children’s Commission and for many years, Ed Edelman.
Over the years, Ed frequently visited the Children’s Court, usually with visitors in tow to give a tour of this facility of which he was so proud. I recall one visit where he took me aside and suggested that the court should have child-friendly clocks to remind everyone that the system operates on kids’ time. With the help of Ernestine Fields, the founder of Comfort for Court Kids (the program that provides teddy bears to every child who comes to court), courtrooms were adorned with cute teddy bear clocks.
While Ed may be gone now, his memory and his heart and soul will live forever through the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court.
Michael Nash is director of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection and the former presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Courts.