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
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
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