For many children, the only parents they’ll ever know are the grandparents who raise them. While these grandparents go about doing the everyday job of raising their grandchildren – changing diapers, preparing meals, and making sure the television is on the Cartoon Network – in the eyes of the law they have no legal authority. The State of Maryland, however, has endowed its courts with the power to take a child away from its parents and commit his or her custody to a third person if it’s in child’s best interest.
There is a long-standing rebuttable presumption that natural parents should have custody of their child over third parties, such as grandparents, in custody cases. When a third party attempts to gain custody of a biological parent’s child, the parent’s fundamental constitutional right to their child’s care, custody, and control is the legal standard that must be overcome. In order to overcome this constitutional presumption in favor of the biological parents, sufficient evidence must be presented that shows that the natural parents are unfit, or that exceptional circumstances exist such that maintaining parental control would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. Once the court is satisfied that both of the natural parents are unfit, or that exceptional circumstances exist to warrant a change in custody, it will then determine the best interests of the child. In many cases, the best interests of the child is to remain in the loving care of the grandparents, or other third person, who have been meeting the child’s day-to- day needs.
On Friday, June 3, 2016, I was able help one exceptional family overcome the constitutional presumption of parentage and establish a more secure future for a little girl being raised by the people who love her. In this instance it was the grandparents of a three-and- a-half year-old little girl, named Chloe, who were seeking custody of their granddaughter. Sadly, the natural parents, both struggling with drug addiction, had abandoned Chloe to the care of her paternal grandparents. While she flourished in their loving environment, my clients worried that the natural parents would swoop in take Chloe into their world of drugs, homelessness, and neglect. Had the biological parents chosen to take Chloe, my clients would have been powerless to stop them. Now, Chloe is home to stay.
– Joshua T. Ortega
On May 5, 2016, the defense team of Windy Ortega and Joshua Ortega successfully defended their client against numerous drug and gun allegations. On September 29, 2014, their client, who will be referred to as “Mr. W” going forward, was stopped for a minor traffic infraction – the legally tinted windows of the vehicle he was operating appeared too dark for the taste of two Baltimore City narcotics officers. The narcotics officers quickly abandoned the alleged purpose of their stop (issuing a citation for a minor traffic infraction), and began searching the vehicle driven by Mr. W. Following this constitutionally questionable search of the vehicle, Mr. W was arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and various handgun violations. The ramifications of a guilty verdict for Mr. W was a lengthy prison sentence. After more than a year-and-a-half of waiting for his day in court, Mr. W was finally able to select a jury on May 2, 2016.
In an effort to prove its case, the State called seven witnesses. The Ortegas systematically exposed the bias and credibility of the narcotics officers and State’s experts, as well as the limitations of the State’s case. Throughout this highly contested trial, the Ortegas fought for Mr. W to make certain he got a fair trial. The jury, hearing the evidence as an impartial and objective body, found Mr. W not guilty of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and four hand gun charges after several hours of deliberations.
The Ortegas, and Mr. W, are forever grateful to the ladies and gentlemen who served on this jury for their time and careful consideration of all the evidence in this case. Joshua and Windy, a husband and wife law firm, lived up to their reputation as the Fighting Ortegas.
Windy and Joshua T. Ortega were both recognized as 2016 Rising Stars by Super Lawyers for their excellence in the practice of law. Only 2.5% of Maryland lawyers are selected as Rising Stars. This recognition is especially meaningful as it stems from a review by their peers.
The collective efforts of the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender and the Private Criminal Defense Bar is paying off. Although the Joint Motion seeking access to Officers Laronde and Nagovich’s IAD records has not yet been fully litigated, the Baltimore City State’s Office has been steadily disposing of cases where Officer Laronde was an arresting officer, including one of Ortega Law’s clients. Since the joint motion was filed at the beginning of this year, the State has dropped 8 of the 21 cases in the still pending joint motion. Officer Laronde has also been fired from his position with the Baltimore City Police Department.
I personally feel that we could not have received a better result for our clients. I am thankful to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and the Baltimore City Police Department for doing the right thing – ceasing to call former Officer Laronde as a witness and firing a corrupt officer who abused his powers as a police officer. I am also thankful to have joined ranks with my colleagues with the Office of the Public Defender and the Private Bar. It shows that there is strength in numbers, and that we all need to work together to continue to get good results for our clients.
Click the link below for WBALTV’s latest story involving the termination of Officer Laronde.
Attorney Windy Ortega of Ortega Law, LLC, continues to fight police misconduct. Ms. Ortega recently teamed up with over 20 other criminal defense attorneys and filed a motion to gain access to two Baltimore City Police Officers’ Internal Affairs records. It is believed that these records contain prior bad acts and dishonest conduct that the Defendants on trial should have access to.