Judge Michael Nash is L.A.’s Top Pick for Child Protection Czar

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Note: This story was updated on Oct. 29

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appears poised to select former judge Michael Nash as director of the newly-constituted Office of Child Protection.

The board posted its agenda for next week, and it includes a letter from County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai recommending the appointment of Judge Michael Nash as director of the county’s experimental Office of Child Protection. The board will likely vote on approval of the recommendation on November 3.

“Well I would say that number one I am excited,” Nash said in an interview. “I am excited because it is such a unique opportunity to work with L.A.’s finest. But, I am quite nervous. With this, failure is not an option. So I am really nervous about that. I think being nervous about that is a good thing.”

The appointment of a child protection czar comes eighteen months after the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection (BRC) issued its final recommendations for reform across the county, which is home to the largest child welfare system in the nation.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was one of the most prominent recommendations to emerge from the blue ribbon commission’s nine-month investigation of the county’s child-serving systems. While the commission’s draft recommendations had initially envisioned the office’s director to have the power to amend budgets and staffing levels of various county agencies to better respond to child abuse, the approved plan for the office narrows its scope to that of a watchdog.

This is a post for which Nash, who served as presiding judge of the county’s large and complex juvenile court system, is uniquely suited. Known for testy exchanges with the current head of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and terse quotes in local and national media, the judge knows how to drive media attention, while also having an extensive rolodex of allies throughout the county’s fractious child welfare community.

“The OCP Director should possess a mixture of political finesse, deep understanding of the system and a deeper determination to improve it, courage to stand up to leaders who fear change, and a willingness to listen and collaborate with all of the stake holders and customers,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a former blue ribbon commissioner and co-chair of the transition team established after the commission was sunsetted. “Judge Nash is one of the few individuals in Los Angeles who possesses all of these qualities. He is intelligent, deeply committed, and highly respected, and I believe he understands the vision behind creating the Office of Child Protection.”

In her letter recommending Nash, Hamai notes Nash’s “extensive experience in public sector law” and recommends a salary of $240,000 for him in this position.

In October of last year, Nash made his desire to be director of the Office of Child Protection known, but lost interest as the Board of Supervisors pushed a decision off for months.

“I basically had put the whole thing behind me,” Nash said. “I have been enjoying myself working in the [juvenile] delinquency court and occasional consulting jobs, and living the good life.”

The office was formally established in January. In February, Fesia Davenport took over as interim director. Davenport previously served as chief deputy director of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and as chief attorney and chief deputy director at the county’s Child Support Services Department.

The board of supervisors is scheduled to vote on Nash’s appointment on Tuesday, November 3.

Tomorrow, The Chronicle will run execerpts from its exclusive interview with Nash.

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Daniel Heimpel
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Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.