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Court: counties responsible for GAL, CASA fees

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In a significant opinion about the funding of child welfare cases, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today that any guardian ad litem or Child Appointed Special Advocate fees associated with a child in need of services case must be paid by the county and not the state agency that lawmakers gave more oversight power to in the past year.

The unanimous ruling came in a consolidated appeal of In the Matters of N.S. and J.M.: Indiana Department of Child Services v. T.S. and S.B., and C.L., and B.M., No. 32A05-0902-JV-78. The case involves two separate CHINS cases ruled on earlier this year in Hendricks Circuit Court. Judge J.V. Boles, in separate decisions, determined both children were considered CHINS, appointed a GAL for each, and then ordered the state agency to pay a preliminary GAL fee of $300 in each case. The DCS appealed, and the cases were consolidated on appeal because both involved a similar question of law.

In its 13-page decision, the three-judge panel examined the 2008-passed changes in H.E.A. 1001 for how child welfare and juvenile justice cases are funded - mainly shifting the financial burdens from the local to state level in exchange for more influence by the DCS in recommending services. Under HEA 1001, if a trial court disregards a DCS recommendation and orders services or placements other than what's recommended, then the county fiscal body may become responsible for funding ordered by the local judge. However, the new statutory provisions do not specifically detail whether the state or country must pay fees related to GALs or CASAs - particularly in a case such as this where the appointments were uncontested.

The panel found nothing in Indiana Code Section 31-40-3-2 appears to contemplate the possibility that DCS should bear the burden of paying those fees, and the General Assembly didn't amend that statute to shift those costs. The panel also noted that Indiana Code Section 33-24-6-4 provides for optional state matching funds for GAL and CASA programs, indicating intent for the counties to bear the burden of costs ordered.

The court declined to decide whether those GAL or CASA services must be approved or recommended by the DCS before the state pays anything under IC Section 31-40-1-2 because the previous findings resolve the issues in this case.

"In addition, we recognize the distinct roles of each of our three branches of government and thus leave to the legislative branch the question of whether, in light of the trend toward State funding of child welfare costs, the costs associated with GALs and CASAs should be shifted to the State," the court wrote. "Under our current statutory scheme, however, it is clear that the burden of paying for services rendered by GALs or CASAs should be attributed to and paid for by the county."

The trial judgment is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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