State judicial authorities have moved to suspend Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lyris Younge, alleging a pattern of civil rights violations and citing her “impatient, discourteous, disrespectful, condescending, and undignified” demeanor while presiding over Family Court cases.
In a 68-page complaint filed late Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board accused Younge of routinely and improperly jailing parents in child custody matters and stripping them of access to their children without giving them adequate opportunity to plead their case. Many of those rulings between 2016 and 2018 have been overturned on appeal.
Tuesday’s complaint launches proceedings before the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline that could lead to her removal from the bench.
Younge, a 53-year-old Democrat, and her lawyer Charles Gibbs did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but another attorney representing her defended her record in an interview with The Inquirer last year.
“She took over a very difficult caseload,” said lawyer Samuel Stretton. “The judge always looks out for children. That’s her priority.”
A former deputy city solicitor and executive in the city’s Department of Human Services, Younge won election to the bench in 2015 despite failing to earn a recommendation from the Philadelphia Bar Association.
The conduct board’s complaint — which lodges 10 process and ethics violations against Younge — portrays her as a capricious and mean-spirited arbiter of child custody cases.
In one 2016 case, a mother facing termination of her parental rights said she felt ill and asked to be excused from the courtroom. Younge, the complaint says, gave her permission, then refused to let her back in to plead her case, telling her lawyer: “Whatever, you don’t have a client.”
The board also chided Younge for another case that year that she convened more than six hours after its scheduled start time. As the day wound down, the complaint alleges, Younge cut off lawyers in the middle of their arguments and rebuffed efforts by both the mother’s attorney and social workers from DHS to detail her improvement after her children were taken away over her drug use.
“So what? What does that have to do with Mom picking up a blunt and smoking it?” Younge said, adding later: “Tell me why at 5:50 p.m. I’m not placing three kids at the bar of the court.”
In other cases, Younge kicked an 18-year-old out of a foster care program without giving her a chance to respond after learning her boyfriend had stayed with her overnight, and in 2017 ordered a grandmother jailed without a hearing when her adult daughter failed to show up for custody proceedings involving her child.
The board cited Younge for using contempt findings and the threat of jailing people without hearings over and over again.
“So how do you want to do this?” she told one mother in court last year for a truancy hearing involving three children she had failed to bring to court. “I think we just put Mom in a cell till I get these babies. I’ll be here till 4 o’clock.”