Unfair to blame judge in Tariji Gordon case

Orlando Sentinel Columnist

When a child dies it's natural to want to point fingers.

And there's been no shortage of finger-pointing since 2-year-old Tariji Gordon was discovered in a shallow grave.

The child's mother is now charged with murder and the family was under the close supervision of the Department of Children and Families since Tariji and her siblings had just been moved back to their mother's care three months before the child's death.

One person on the receiving end of the finger-pointing is the judge who oversaw the case and approved the reunification of Rachel Fryer with her children.

CNN's Jane Velez-Mitchell all but said the judge threw the children into harm's way.

"And then, last fall, Circuit Court Judge Donna McIntosh, that lady right there, insisted these innocent kids go back with their unstable drug- addicted ex-con mom, even though they were reportedly doing quite well in foster care," Velez-Mitchell said on a recent broadcast. "... This little girl was just abandoned by the system. And I don`t understand what this judge was thinking."

This week the court system released video of two court hearings related to the case. And they do not show a careless judge.

In fact, the hearings show McIntosh probing into everything from what the children are eating to how their mother will pay for day-care.

A video of a hearing in December very clearly shows a DCF attorney, case manager and a court-appointed child advocate all in favor of the children remaining with Fryer. 

"The children are happy to be home with their mother," a guardian ad litem told the judge. "The guardian observed them very happy hugging the mother and kissing her. There are some concerns about the mother’s stability."

But those concerns, the advocate told McIntosh, centered on Fryer's financial insecurity. Fryer missed work for two weeks because of illness and was short on money for rent, food and even beds for the kids less than a month after they were returned to her care.

An attorney for DCF said there were no safety concerns for the children and said the department could assist Fryer temporarily with day-care costs.

"Well, you better start assisting her immediately or you’re going to be picking the children back up," McIntosh told the attorney. "What are these children eating?"

The case manager, who had just been assigned to the case, piped up to say he witnessed food in Fryer's cabinets and refrigerator.

McIntosh asked if the case manager was monitoring the children's access to food and whether they had stable housing if Fryer is unable to pay rent.

She warned a second time, "You're prepared to pick these children back up?"

She also asked about the children's father, who didn't bother to show up at the hearing. She asked if he is able to work and help support the children and Fryer answered, "yes" but that he "does nothing."

McIntosh then talked about ordering him to pay child support.

None of that seems to add up to a careless judge.

At least at the hearings that were released, McIntosh seemed very concerned for the well-being of the children and was assured by DCF and the child advocate that the reunification was going reasonably well.

There's plenty of blame to go around in this case to be sure. It's far more complicated than holding just one or two people up to blame. From what I've seen so far, it's unfair and just plain wrong to assert that the judge in this case somehow put Tariji in danger.



Copyright © 2018, CT Now