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Authorities in Michigan are cracking down on lawyers who are appointed to represent neglected and abused kids but fail to visit them as required by law. Under new rules announced by the Michigan Supreme Court last month, lawyer-guardians ad litem in Michigan will not get paid unless they sign sworn statements that they have met with their clients before each quarterly hearing. Starting on Jan. 1, each guardian ad litem will have to sign affidavits attesting that they have met with and observed the child before proceeding. The new rule is the result of a recent report commissioned by the Supreme Court that found that guardians ad litem often fail to meet with their clients. “The new form is going to make it clear that there’s an expectation that the lawyer meet with the children whom they’ve been appointed to represent,” said John Ferry, administrator of the State Court Administrative Office, which created the new affidavit. Financial strains? Ferry anticipates, however, that the new initiative will ruffle some feathers in the legal profession because of the financial strain it will put on lawyers. “I think a lot of lawyers are worried about whether they’ll be compensated for the time that they’ve spent (with children),” Ferry said. “The fact is that there are a number of attorneys who do this work, get paid, but frankly they don’t make any real money because they don’t get paid well.” In Michigan, fees for the guardians vary, depending on the county, from $50 an hour for work that includes visiting children, to $500 for a half-day trial, plus about five court proceedings. In some areas, such as Wayne County, which includes Detroit, child visits are not paid for. “It’s impossible to be a guardian ad litem and make a living, and that is just sad,” said attorney Diane Bare, a solo practitioner in Pontiac, Mich. “When you do guardian ad litem work you have to understand you’re pretty much acting as a pro bono lawyer.” Bare, who said she makes about $5 an hour as a guardian ad litem, said that after 13 years of doing the work she will no longer do so as of Jan. 1. She said it’s too time-consuming to visit a child before every hearing. And often the clients live far away. For example, she said, she currently has a neglect case involving seven children who live in five different areas. “Some of these children are placed out of county,” Bare said. “And I don’t mean a few hours across the county border, I mean way up north. It’s just insane. It would take you a day to visit that child.” Southfield, Mich., solo practitioner Jeffrey Ehrlichman, who has been doing guardian ad litem work for 17 years, said efforts are under way to assure that lawyers get paid for the soon-to-be mandated visits. He said that shortly after the state Supreme Court announced the new rule, a group of juvenile trial lawyers proposed to Wayne County that they get paid $50 for each visit with the child. “At least it’s something. We want to make it affordable for the county as well as make it affordable for us,” Ehrlichman said. “We would like to be able to visit every child prior to each hearing, but it’s very time-consuming.” Ehrlichman, who handles about 20 juvenile cases at any given time, said that despite the financial setbacks of the new rule, he will continue doing guardian ad litem work, which makes up 50% of his workload. “I don’t see it as pro bono work,” he said. “I see it as low-paid work. But I really enjoy it . . . representing children, trying to get them on the right track-I think it’s an interesting type of law.” Meanwhile, efforts are under way in Wayne County to have one agency, the Legal Aid and Defender Association, represent all abused, neglected or delinquent children. Similar initiatives have been adopted in places that include Chicago. “We think it’ll improve representation of the children because of the expertise of our juvenile law division,” said Roger Lennert, a spokesman for the defenders’ group. Baldas’ e-mail address is [email protected].

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