One little court summons
My vocation as a homeschool legal defense
lawyer began on August 5, 2001, when I was
hired to help Mike Farris with our litigation
work. In 2003, a member family notified us
that they had been summoned to court on the
charge of educational neglect, and the first
appearance was later that week.
As is often the case, the documents accompanying the summons were distinctly lacking
in detail. The family told me that they thought
it all started when they enrolled their oldest
child in middle school to play sports. The
principal, they believed, had never liked the
fact that they homeschooled, and in smalltown America, everyone knows everyone else’s
business—into which, noses they sometimes
Jetting off on short notice to faraway courts
is not always as glamorous as it may sound.
After a night in a musty hotel room on the
main highway into town, I met our local counsel at his office, three blocks from the courthouse. He had taken over the law practice from
his father after years of working with him, so
he knew the local legal ropes. He knew all the
prosecutors and lawyers in town, and he knew
the judge. We made a dynamic duo.
He had learned some things while I was on
my journey. It was indeed the principal who
had made the report. And he had tried to raise
a stink before. But the superintendent had told
him not to do anything because the family had
meticulously followed the homeschool law
with all their kids, including providing satisfactory year-end assessments.
The family arrived and told us more about
their homeschool. They considered their kids
to be progressing according to their ability,
comfortably in the average range for kids their
age—and the documents they provided backed
them up. Their oldest, who had been allowed
to enroll in the public school, had some
learning challenges in reading, which had him
a little behind the average kid his age. They
figured the principal used this to finally justify
dragging them into court.
Before they left the law office, Mom reached
into her purse and pulled out a small piece
of paper. A glorious piece of paper. A piece of
paper I immediately recognized as the Golden
One little courtroom drama
After lunch, we all assembled in the courthouse and waited to be called. An angry-looking
young man, who turned out to be the prosecutor, told us the judge wanted just attorneys in
his chambers. This is a common practice.
“I see you’re not licensed in this state,” the
prosecutor said to me as we walked down the
narrow hallway. “I’ll have you up on charges
before the bar association,” he continued.
“We don’t need any bigshot DC lawyers in our
Not my first rodeo: I reached into my briefcase and handed him the order the judge had
signed that morning, allowing me to participate in the case. Round One to the good guys.
Already seated in chambers were two guardians ad litem—attorneys appointed to represent the best interests of the children. One
was for the boy in public school, and the other
for the kids still being homeschooled. Next to
them sat the principal. The prosecutor placed
me in the chair directly in front of the judge
and sat to the immediate right of the judge’s
desk, facing me.
The judge had erected a wall of books
stacked high between himself and the chair
where I sat. He slumped down and chainsmoked the entire time. To make eye contact,
I had to sit perfectly erect on the edge of my
seat, and even then, his eyeglasses occasionally bobbed down below the billows of smoke
behind his fortress.
The prosecutor opened with a red-faced,
finger-wagging, spittle-flying tirade. That
was not normal. Most in-chambers meetings
are cordial, even in challenging cases. More
embarrassed for the prosecutor than upset,
I said little, mindful that this was not an
The judge asked to hear from the two guardians ad litem, who were noncommittal. He
then asked the principal to explain why we
The principal confirmed that he had been
concerned about this family’s homeschool
but didn’t feel he could do anything until the
oldest boy enrolled in his school. The portrait
he painted was short on facts, but his opinion
was not flattering.
One little Golden Ticket
When he finished, the timing seemed ideal,
even if not on the record. I told the judge that
I’d like to ask the principal a few questions,
and he allowed it.
“The oldest boy enrolled in your school at
the start of the year, didn’t he?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“And,” I continued, “he had five teachers for
the different subjects, didn’t he?”
“That is correct.”
“Do you know all of his teachers?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” he responded, as if I were
“Do you consider them all to be well
“Yes, they are,” he said.
“And are they all truthful?”
“Of course,” he answered, a bit indignantly.
At that moment, I reached into my briefcase and pulled out the Golden Ticket. With
just a whiff of theatricality, I handed it to the
“Mr. Principal,” I said, pulse quickening,
doing my best to stay off my high horse, “what
is the document I just handed to you?”
The pregnant pause that followed suggested
it may have been the first time he’d seen it.
“It’s the boy’s report card,” he murmured,
never raising his eyes.
“When was it issued?” I asked so quietly that
everyone in the room seemed to lean in.
“Earlier this week,” he replied.
“And sir,” I asked, “are those the five teachers
in whom you put so much confidence?”
“Yes, they are,” he said.
Then, with my best “you must eat your
vegetables” voice, I asked, “Would you
please tell the judge what grades your trusted
teachers assigned to the child?”
“Two Bs and three Cs.”
Game, set, match for the good guys. Turns
out the principal’s teachers had the same
assessment that the boy’s parents had.
The judge sat up straight, thrust his bespectacled face out from behind his cloud cover,
and said, “I don’t think we need to go on the
record today. I’m going to set this over while
you all confer about next steps.”
A few weeks later, a different young prosecutor came out and politely introduced himself
to me. “We’re going to be dismissing today,”
he said. And, after the proceedings concluded, one of the guardians ad litem apologized
for the previous prosecutor’s unprofessional
conduct and expressed his appreciation that I
hadn’t responded in kind.
One little tale, now told
The case set no important precedent. It
didn’t make the news. No one outside a handful of participants even knew it happened for
20 years, till now.
I have always been grateful to the Lord
for showing me the importance of the work
HSLDA does in cases like this early in my time
here. Many families have been helped with
little or no fanfare. Over the years, Golden
Tickets have abounded. We pray and rely
on the Lord to provide them, and to help us
carry out our professions with excellence and
And we are ever mindful that we cannot
carry out this important mission without your
prayers and support.
Cover image: © HSLDA / thoburnillustrations.com