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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoLawyers Exit From Kids' Cases
by Jack Kresnak, Detroit Free Press, October 9, 2004
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More than 1,000 abused and neglected children in Wayne County Family Court cases are getting new lawyers to represent their interests in child protective proceedings.

On Friday, Wayne County Circuit Chief Judge Mary Beth Kelly granted a request from the Legal Aid and Defender Association to withdraw from 462 Family Court cases involving abused or neglected children because the group's juvenile division lawyers were overloaded and couldn't meet state standards for representing the kids. "Hopefully, we can turn this into an opportunity that will improve the overall representation of young people at Lincoln," Kelly said, referring to the James Lincoln Hall of Juvenile Justice, where the county's child protective proceedings are heard.

In May, LADA asked to withdraw from about one-third of its abuse and neglect caseload because attorneys were handling more than 100 cases each and could not follow state law that requires attorneys representing such children -- called lawyer-guardians ad litem -- to visit their child-clients before each court hearing, usually four times a year.

Regina Daniels Thomas, chief trial attorney for LADA's juvenile division, said it was physically impossible for the attorneys to visit all their clients as required.

Kelly ruled in July that if LADA wanted to withdraw from cases it must first notify the children or their guardians to give them a chance to object.

Thomas said LADA notified all children in 465 cases of the request to withdraw. Several people called LADA, and a half-dozen youths responded to an invitation to meet in LADA's downtown office, Thomas said.

Three of the children objected, and LADA will continue to represent those kids, Thomas said.

An exact number of children in the 462 cases could not be determined, but Thomas said there is an average of 2.5 children per case, meaning more than 1,000 children will get new lawyers.

"We really did not want to do this," Thomas said. But, she added, the children deserve to have lawyers who have the time to advocate for them.

Kelly said the 462 cases would be reassigned within 10 days. They will go to lawyers for firms that have agreed to do free legal work in juvenile court, lawyers who have not had a chance to practice family law or the Children's Law Center, which combines lawyers and social workers to advocate for abused or neglected children.

    

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