Carlos R. Moreno not only is an associate justice on the California Supreme Court, he's a foster parent.
Moreno, 60, and his wife became foster parents of their 5-year-old disabled niece in 2000. Moreno and his wife now are in the process of adopting the 13-year-old girl.
So it was fitting Moreno spoke Wednesday evening at a fund-raiser for CASA of Stanislaus County. CASA volunteers work one-on-one with foster children, advocating for services for these children, informing the court about the children's best interests and making stable connections with them.
In an interview before the fund-raiser, Moreno said his experience with his niece has "been the central foundation" in his efforts on behalf of foster children.
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More than 160 people paid $250 each to attend the 2009 Light of Hope fund-raiser at Galletto Ristorante in downtown Modesto.
Moreno spoke about the recommendations of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care. He is chairman of the panel, which issued its final report and action plan in May.
"He in many ways personifies our local commitment to children in care," said Steve Ashman, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Stanislaus County, after the fund-raiser. "It was really a treat to see so many people gather around the cause for abused and neglected children in our community."
Ashman said there are almost 600 children in foster care in Stanislaus County. Children are placed in foster care primarily because they have been abused, neglected or molested.
He said the recession has caused a spike in Stanislaus County placements as economic pressures bear down on families vulnerable to alcohol and drugs and abuse. A little more than a year ago, there were 424 children in foster care.
"The need for advocates is enormous," Ashman said. The program has about 50 volunteer advocates working with 90 children. There are 24 volunteers being trained to become advocates.
Moreno was on President Barack Obama's list of contenders to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created when Associate Justice David Souter announced his retirement in May. The president picked U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Souter.
Moreno said this was his second visit to Modesto in the past three or four years. He last was here to speak at a Law Day event. Besides the CASA fund-raiser, he also spoke Wednesday before the Latino Bar Association.
Ashman said he decided in February to invite Moreno to the fund-raiser. Ashman said he served on a subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission and admires Moreno's advocacy on behalf of children.
"I learned a long time ago, if you don't ask, you don't get," Ashman said.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.