Judges bring Torrey Pines parents into the world of the juvenile court system

Parents, staff told that school has ‘significant’ drug, alcohol problem

By Marsha Sutton


When San Diego County Juvenile Court Judge Carolyn Caietti told an associate she was preparing to visit Torrey Pines High School to speak to parents about juvenile issues, her colleague replied, “Oh, you’re going to the drug school.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederic Link did not hold back. “You have a significant alcohol problem in this school,” he said to parents at an evening program called “Justice 101 for Parents,” held Feb. 24 at TPHS. “You have a significant marijuana problem in this school. You have a significant OxyContin problem in this school.”

When it comes to the prevalence and easy availability of OxyContin, in particular, “Torrey Pines is king,” Link said.

This sobering message was delivered to about 150 parents and visitors who came to hear Caietti and Link talk about the juvenile court system, how it works, what kinds of cases they see, the legal and financial responsibility parents have for their under-18 children, and what parents can do to keep kids out of trouble.

“Justice 101 for Parents” is an extension of the “Justice 101 for Students” program, which was started about 10 years ago by Link and is the only program of its kind in the state.

This past January, Torrey Pines High School seniors who participated in “Justice 101 for Students” observed an interactive presentation by Link and attended actual courtroom proceedings.

The program is specifically geared toward high school seniors, because they are “about to enter the adult word,” Link said. The goal is “to leave a lasting impression on graduating seniors.”

“They come in a boy or a girl,” he said. “But next year they’re going to be a man or a woman.”

Both programs inform students and parents of the real-life consequences of making poor choices regarding drugs, alcohol, sex, drunk driving, curfew violations, cyber-bullying, vandalism, “sexting” and other offenses common to the juvenile court system.

“Don’t do something stupid,” Link tells the students. “I don’t want to see you in this courtroom.” He told the parents this as well, in his TPHS presentation.

Link said that 75 to 80 percent of the kids he sees in his program said they’ve attended parties where drugs or alcohol were present. In about 40 percent of those cases, the kids said parents furnished the alcohol.

“Why can’t you say no?” he asked. “Why can’t you set rules?”

Link said kids have their own world with their own set of rules, and “they don’t want you in their world. You parents are not a part of this world. Your children’s lives are run by their peers.”

But he said that doesn’t mean parents should simply give in and let their kids run their lives free of outside interference, saying their world would resemble “Lord of the Flies” without the influence of parents and other authority figures.

“You have to devote your life to them,” Link said. “You have to have dinner with them every night. Talk to them. Listen to them.”

Judge Carolyn Caietti said, “You need to be a parent first and a friend second. You have permission to hear your kid say, ‘I hate you.’”

Caietti shared her self-described “war stories,” explaining what can happen “if you choose not to parent.” She said parents are responsible for any crime a minor commits, which financially can reach as high as $37,410. In addition, she said it costs $6,000 to $7,000 per month for a drug rehabilitation program, which can be required.

When a minor is put on probation, the judge learns everything about the child and the family, said Caietti, who sees an average of 30 juvenile cases each day. “I see every walk of life,” she said.

Both Link and Caietti advised parents to call other parents’ homes when their children say that’s where they will be — first, to verify that they’ll actually be there, and secondly, to be sure a responsible adult will be present.

“Make sure you know where your kids are at night,” said Link, insisting that there be understood consequences for violations of preset rules. Give kids a curfew, and mean it, they suggested.

For divorced parents, Link recommended that both parents agree on a pre-determined set of rules, including no parties with drugs or alcohol.

“Even though there are times when your kids hate you, you’re a role model,” said Link, who advised parents not to drink in front of their kids. “Don’t let your kids think that having fun is equated with having alcohol,” he said.

Link, a judge for the past 29 years, said he tells high school males to walk away from fights and that a girl’s “no means no.”

In an interactive moment, Link asked the audience, “What do you say if your child asks you if you ever smoked or drank?” Several parents said to say no. Link agreed. “You are not your child’s friend yet,” he said.

Caietti discussed the all-too-common practice of parents who provide kids with alcohol in their homes because they feel the kids are going to drink anyway. And they take away car keys as a precaution. But she said her experience as a judge has convinced her that this doesn’t work.

She cited numerous examples of drunk kids leaving these parties behind the wheel after taking back their car keys when parents fall asleep or turn their backs. She said these kinds of parties have results in cases she’s seen in her courtroom of rape, pornographic material ending up in cyberspace, drunk kids being rounded up by police officers called to the scene, curfew violations, probation violations, parents in trouble for violating social host ordinances, and other bad endings to parent-hosted parties gone awry.

Caietti said she was incredulous when she learned that students at Torrey Pines and some other high schools use their cars as lockers because lockers are not provided on campus. “How much supervision is in your parking lots?” she asked.

“We are here for you to think about how you are parenting your children,” Link said. All it takes is one mistake to wind up in serious trouble with the law, he said.

“You can be the perfect parent and still end up in my courtroom,” Caietti said.

This is the first time he has been invited to speak to Torrey Pines parents, noted Link, who said he was pleased to bring his message to the Carmel Valley school.

“For many years you swept it under the rug, but Torrey Pines administrators are now doing something about it,” he said.

Link urged parents to “provide a compass of moral guidelines,” which starts by recognizing the dangers, being aware of their kids’ behavior, and staying involved.

For more information on the Justice 101 program, call (619) 450-7176 or contact Student Outreach and Education Program Coordinator Julie Myres at