Friday, April 11, 2008

Officials, lawyers, scrambling to manage the biggest family law case in Texas history

"Tom Vick is looking for about 100 lawyers willing to volunteer for what likely is the biggest family law case in Texas history," reports Texas Lawyer's John Council in an excellent article on the behind-the-scenes wrangling to gear up for the removal hearings for 400+ kids from the YFZ ("Yearning for Zion") compound in Eldorado. "The removal petitions CPS filed on April 7 will test the state’s civil justice system in an unprecedented way because of the sheer volume of litigants."
Vick is seeking the names, addresses and phone numbers of family lawyers willing to volunteer as ad litems in the CPS removal actions. The case is so large that the 120 lawyers in San Angelo, the city with the most attorneys near tiny Eldorado, can’t possibly handle it, Vick says.

Vick serves on the Access to Justice Commission, which was created by the Texas Supreme Court to address the legal needs of the poor. Vick says he began gathering the names of lawyers at the request of Emily Jones, the executive director of the commission.

“The court’s not ready to appoint lawyers yet,” says Vick, a member of the State Bar of Texas board of directors and a former chairman of the Bar’s Family Law Section. “We’re just trying to amass an army, so when we’re called upon we’ll be ready to do the job.”
There's a shortage in particular of attorneys with ad litem experience, TL reports. "While there are thousands of family lawyers in Texas, not all of them have ad litem experience. The Texas Family Code requires that lawyers have continuing legal education training before they represent children as ad litems in family court cases."

Like the CPS system, the civil courts may not be prepared for the onslaught of handling these cases all at once. Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill lamented that removal cases “are in our courts in Texas every day. And our courts don’t have the resources we need” right now.

Indeed, even local clerk's offices aren't equipped for the task. According to Office of Court Administration chief Carl Reynolds told Council that:
Schleicher County’s small district clerk’s office is not equipped to handle the volume of motions expected to be filed related to the FLDS removal cases. So he’s working on an agreement between Schleicher and Tom Green counties so that the Tom Green County district clerk’s office can process all of the motions related to the litigation.

“Tom Green County has e-filing, and Schleicher County does not, and we need a special agreement to make that work,” Reynolds says.
This is just a taste, anyone interested should give the whole thing a read, and if you're a qualified attorney who wants to help, by all means please contact Mr. Vick.


Ron in Houston said...

Due process in CPS cases? I believe more in the tooth fairy than in due process in CPS cases.

Stephen said...

I'll have to say that I practiced law in West Texas for fifteen years (in Wichita Falls) and I actually knew some very fine CPS people.

Not to say that the current mess isn't a disaster unfolding, but just to say that I've known some very caring people who did a good job too.