How to Choose the Right CPS Defense Attorney

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Choosing the right attorney to help you with your case is not an easy task. What follows are some tips that will hopefully help you do that. - Michael Cronkright

Am I Better off with a Family Law Attorney or a Criminal Defense Attorney?

The reality is that a CPS allegation can rear its ugly head in a variety of court actions. In some cases, clients have to deal with a divorce or custody action, a criminal prosecution, a Personal Protection Order and a Neglect Petition all at the same time. In some rare circumstances, a parent may also be contemplating suing CPS or bringing a medical malpractice action against a doctor. The knowledge of a competent CPS defense attorney must be broad enough to anticipate all of these areas of law.

Where do I Find a CPS Specialist?

You don’t, at least not in Michigan. And that is not because there are not experts on CPS Defense out there. It is because for the most part, attorneys in Michigan are not allowed to hold themselves out as specialists. This has to do with the Michigan legal ethical rules for attorneys. Under the rules that govern our profession, no lawyer should refer to themselves as child abuse specialists or CPS defense specialists. However, there are some important questions that you can ask to help you figure out the degree of focus on the subject matter that a prospective attorney may have. My suggestion is that you ask and get straight answers to the following questions. To make it easy, I am giving you my answers to these questions.

  • Do you focus on CPS Defense?

    My Answer: I focus on parents. I also defend licensed day care workers, social workers, foster care parents, and professional license holders as they deal with allegations brought by CPS, law enforcement, LARA, the Maltreatment in Care unit and the various licensing boards. My focus on parents comes from the fact that I am a parent advocate. I believe in parents and I believe in keeping families together. That puts me at odds with many a CPS investigator. So be it. I am very comfortable placing myself (figuratively) between CPS and a parent; and working to keep a family together or bring the children home where they belong.
  • Have you ever won a jurisdiction trial?

    First, I should explain the question. A jurisdiction trial is the trial to determine whether your children will be fully under the authority of the court. Now My Answer: Yes, of course! Winning trials for parents is an important part of my job. Believe it or not, there are plenty of attorneys who represent parents (notice that I said represent rather than defend) who never take a case to trial. Naturally, you are not going to win any trials if you don’t hold them. Don’t get me wrong, not every case should go to trial. And not every trial is won. Sometimes it is better to settle a case. However, the best parent advocates out there are not afraid to stand up to CPS.
  • Have you ever won a neglect/abuse jury trial?

    My Answer: I would give the same answer as I did to the previous question, “Yes, of course!” I think this is an important question because the vast majority of Neglect / Abuse Petitions are never brought before a jury. Why? Because the attorneys don’t ask for one, or they don’t ask on time. If you hire an attorney with no jury experience, and you have a jury trial, you may not be happy with the result. There is a practical value to having an experienced attorney. I have been doing jury trials for over 20 years.
  • Have you Successfully Defended a Client in a Termination Hearing?

    This is really important because every CPS petition has the potential of ending up in a termination hearing sooner or later. My Answer? “Yes, absolutely. These are often some of the most difficult battles in the courtroom. I start planning for that event when I first meet my client. That is best practice for avoiding a termination hearing and for winning if a client is caught up in one.”
  • “Have you ever been professionally disciplined or lost your license to practice law for any period of time?”

    Why ask? Ethics matter. My answer? “No, I have never been disciplined or lost my license.”
  • If I Hire you, Who is going to Handle My Case?

    My Answer: In my firm, that is up to you. I work with a number of really good attorneys, but all of my clients end up calling me by my first name, they have my cell phone number, they talk to me, we discuss the case together and I watch what the other attorneys are doing. In the end, however, if a client says, “Mike, I want you to handle my case personally", then I look for ways to make that happen. Many firms farm out cases, even some firms with very good attorneys at the helm. Be careful.

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