Attorney at Law Magazine publisher Tom Brady sat down with Judge David Gooding to discuss his involvement in the Guardian Ad Litem Program and his work in the courtroom.
AALM: Tell us about Guardian ad Litem Program – it’s mission, founding, etc.
Gooding: Guardians ad Litem advocate for the best interest of children who are abandoned, abused, or neglected, in the community and in courts. What we now know as “Guardian ad Litem” in Florida began in a Seattle juvenile court about 40 years ago, and spread across the nation.
AALM: What first drew you to Juvenile Dependency Court?
Gooding: My father was a juvenile court judge in the 1950s before he became a circuit court judge. I often heard stories of how he had had a positive impact in the lives of others because of his service as a judge, that he made a difference. I think working with children and families affords me a chance to make a better future for all of us.
Juvenile Dependency Court is like no other court. The purpose of juvenile court is not punishment, but provision. We try to provide for children to be safe and families to be strong. We help mothers and fathers become the best moms or dads they can be. When children cannot be safely reunited with their parents, we seek forever families for those children, so they do not have to grow up in the foster care system because we know that the best foster care system in the world is not as good as a permanent family.
AALM: Since beginning your work with the GAL how has it affected you and your perception of its work? How has your work benefited you personally?
Gooding: It is often said that guardians ad litem are the “eyes and ears” of the court. While courts listen carefully to all witnesses, not just the guardian ad litem, I have seen a case where having a guardian ad litem literally saved the life of a child who was not receiving the lifesaving medicine she needed.
Guardians ad litem can bring up any need of a child to the court which I might not otherwise know of, and request the need be met. This could be anything from having medicine, funds for extracurricular activities, proper eye glasses, or clothes to wear that fit the child and that the child is not embarrassed to wear to school. I count on guardians ad litem to proactively advocate for the best interests of our children in foster care every day.
AALM: What is it like working with non-lawyer board members?
Gooding: I always enjoy my interaction with the Guardian ad litem Florida First Coast board. This is the charitable organization which funds many things for children our community. Most recently, the foundation hosted a fund raiser at the Duval County Courthouse, and it supported another event that raised money in June.
AALM: What is the most outrageous thing that has happened in your courtroom?
Gooding: Once a child in foster care was appearing before me had a seizure in the courtroom. Her medical condition was well known, and our courtroom staff immediately sprang into action, summoning first responders and clearing the courtroom. The guardian ad litem and case worker comforted the child while waiting for fire rescue to arrive and transport her for treatment.
One of the great privileges of serving as a Dependency Court judge is that I am often in a position to witness the greatness of others. Our guardians ad litem, mentors, tutors, and especially our foster parents and adoptive parents give so much of themselves to advance the best interests of children without any expectation of receiving anything in return.
AALM: Any exciting events or plans recently occur or planned for the future?
Gooding: We always enjoy our special adoption events each year. We have a Mother’s Day adoption event in May, a Father’s Day adoption event in June, a Halloween adoption event in October, a National Adoption Month adoption event in November, and, my favorite, a Home for the Holidays adoption event in December. These events bring much-needed media attention to adoptions through the foster care system. It’s a lot easier to adopt through foster care than most people think.
After we have media coverage of these events, I am frequently contacted by people asking how they can become involved. Maybe they are not in a place where they can adopt, or even foster children in their home, and I often recommend they consider serving as a volunteer guardian ad litem.
AALM: How can other attorneys become involved or donate to GAL?
Gooding: It’s been said that “we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” I encourage any attorney who is interested in serving as a volunteer guardian ad litem or attorney ad litem that they contact their local guardian ad litem office. In this capacity, I am always happy “to see them in court.”
Guardian ad litem volunteers really do improve the outcomes for the children and their families who they serve.