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Appellate court rules on GAL fees

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A guardian ad litem must differentiate between attorney and non-legal work when billing in a paternity case, and trial courts must carefully consider guidelines set out in probate-focused Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.5 when deciding how to compensate for fees and expenses.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today in the case In Re: The Paternity of N.L.P., Robert Pendowski v. Lisa A. Sizemore/ Jill S. Swope, No. 45A03-0805-JV-226, vacating and remanding to Lake Superior Court a case dealing with an issue of first impression.

Specifically, the appeal looks at whether Swope, who for four years was a court-appointed guardian ad litem in a paternity case, reasonably calculated and billed for her legal and non-legal work - preparing and submitting reports, making home visits to both households, supervising parenting time, visiting the child's school, reviewing records, and also preparing for and attending court hearings by testifying and cross-examining other witnesses. Swope submitted a report in October 2007 that outlined fees and expenses totaling $34,800.

The trial court determined that the fees weren't reasonable, based on the following: Swope billed by the quarter hour and not tenth of an hour; long-distance phone calls and copying or faxing charges shouldn't have been included; the parents' income and ability to pay; and some of the services were duplicated by a custody evaluator. The trial court reduced the total fees to $20,000 and ordered each parent to pay half, and then denied Swope's motion earlier this year to correct error.

In writing for the appellate panel, Judge James Kirsch wrote, "The trial court found the fees to be unreasonable, but instead of engaging in an analysis of what a reasonable fee would have been, it arbitrarily chose $20,000 to be a reasonable amount of fees for this paternity action. We believe that a more complete careful analysis of the duties performed is required ...."

The appellate judges relied on Indiana Code § 31-14-18-2(a) about what trial courts can order a party in a paternity action to pay, but also looked to probate and estate administration statutes and rules because the reasonableness of the amount of GAL fees in paternity matters is one of first impression for Indiana. One of those guiding provisions is Rule 1.5, which includes factors such as time and labor required, fees customarily charged in that locality for similar legal services, and whether that fee is fixed or contingent.

Understandably, the court didn't apply those factors because of the first impression nature here, Judge Kirsch wrote. But at the same time, Swope's fees weren't reasonable, the court ruled.

"A GAL is oftentimes not an attorney, and a person acting as a GAL should not get an attorney's billing rate for performing GAL duties," he wrote. "We believe that the services performed as a GAL and the services performed as an attorney should be billed separately and at different rates. Any legal work done for the matter such as, drafting pleadings and participating in court hearings, may be billed as attorney fees. Any non-legal work done in the matter such as supervising parenting time, home visits, and preparing GAL reports, should be billed as GAL fees at a separate rate."

The case is remanded for the lower court to further analyze the fees based on this appellate opinion.

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  1. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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