Imagine this scenario:
Child is removed by SC DSS from a single parent home due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. Single parent, a mother, is working, but making very little and falling well within the federal poverty guidelines.
Child is assigned an attorney Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child in court. The GAL, whether attorney, SC Volunteer GAL Program or Richland County CASA volunteer, looks out for the child’s best interest.
Mother cannot afford an attorney.
At the first SC DSS hearing, Mother asks the court to provide her with an attorney. The attorney GAL walks with Mother to the Clerk of Court’s office to help her fill out paperwork to apply for a court-appointed attorney. The clerk asks Mother for the $40 fee to accompany the application. Mother does not have $40 to pay the fee. Mother does not have $20 to pay the fee. The attorney GAL asks if the clerk can make an exception and waive the fee. The clerk refuses to waive the fee. Mother has no attorney.
The attorney GAL is concerned. She is aware that Mother cannot afford an attorney, and that this is a serious legal issue; one in which there is potential for Mother to lose custody of her child. And Mother is unrepresented.
Do you think this is FAIR? Do you think this is JUSTICE?
What if I tell you that this scenario is real? Does that change your mind?
Well, it is based on a similar real-life situation.
Fact Recap: Child taken from single parent – Mother – based on allegation of abuse and neglect. Mother works, but does not make a lot of money. Mother shows in court unrepresented. Mother tries to get attorney appointed WITH assistance from attorney representing her child. The Mother is still not able to get an attorney to represent her because she CANNOT pay $40 filing fee and is unable to get a waiver.
What happens next?
Attorney representing Mother followed up. She contacted several people, none of whom were judges, to see if anything could be done to waive the fee. She was given a contact name and followed up. Mother will be receiving a court appointed attorney.
Does this mean Mother will prevail?
Not sure. It will depend on the facts of the case and adherence to any treatment plans or court orders.
Does it mean that the GAL thinks the child should have stayed in the home?
I don’t know. Honestly I didn’t ask the question. Either way though, the Mother is in the midst of a crisis. Her child has been removed from her home. It’s likely that she is (choose one:) distraught/embarrassed/angry/other emotion . As I’ve noted on numerous occasions, when emotions are high, it sometimes takes away our ability to reason or rationally make an argument or listen to court proceedings. An attorney provides a buffer for the emotional client, and makes the proceedings more well-reasoned.
So? Why are you bringing up this issue?
Because I so often hear that attorneys are just *blankety-blank bottom-feeders* AND I know better. And this is a perfect example of that. This attorney went beyond her ethical duty to ensure that the Mother in a case receives legal assistance.
Unfortunately I won’t give more details or name the attorney because this is an on-going case and I don’t want to identify anyone or give away confidences. Suffice it to say that this attorney will hold a dear place in my heart.
Thank you anonymous attorney!