How to Work With a Court Appointed Attorney

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Working with a court appointed attorney on your Michigan Neglect/Abuse case can be difficult. In order to get the best result in their case, parents often need a level of service from an attorney that is difficult to get from their court appointed lawyer. In many cases, this is not due to a lack of knowledge and skill; it is due to a lack of time. Many court appointed attorneys know the local system for handling cases better than retained counsel. This is because they regularly appear before the same judge, see the same referee, work with or against the same Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and Guardian ad Litem. Most problems with court appointed attorneys come down to issues of time and money. These lawyers are notoriously underpaid. As a result, they take on far too many cases to give the level of personal attention that is required. Efforts to fix the problem have helped some, but the quality of representation for parents remains low. If you can afford retained counsel, hire the best attorney you can find. If you can’t, you may want to consider the tips below:

  • Get organized. If CPS filed a Petition, a CPS worker or prosecutor took the time to list out the most important aspects of their case. You will find in the Petition the allegations they intend to prove. I have my clients go through the detailed allegations in the petition and comment on them. Specifically, I ask for three types of responses.

    • I agree with these facts
    • These facts are not true, let me tell you why (followed by a very concise paragraph or two)
    • I agree with these facts, but I need to put them in perspective (followed by a very concise paragraph or two.)

You should create a document that explains your response to the petition. It should be an article not book and typed, not hand written. You should run a spell checker on it and have a friend that you trust proof read it for you.

  • Prepare your proposed Witness List. Don’t wait for your attorney to ask for this information. Prepare a list and forward it to her/him. For every name, you need to provide the following information:

    • Full name
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • A brief explanation about what Petition allegation this witness can address.

Ask your attorney if she wants character witnesses. Also, ask your attorney if you should bring the witnesses in for an appointment.

  • Communicate in writing as much as possible. Most attorneys like email because it gives them a paper trail for the communication. Use email as much as possible, assuming that your attorney approves. If you use email communication, consider the following:

    • Never threaten your attorney or become hostile. You can say, “I did not get a response to my last email, is this the best way to communicate or should I be doing something else?” That is better than, “If you don’t respond, I am going to complain to the judge!”
    • Short and to the point emails are better than long ones. Don’t send a three thousand word email to a busy attorney unless you are paying his hourly rate to have it read.
    • Volunteer. These types of emails are music to my ears: “Is there anything I can do for you to get ready for trial?” or “I am nervous about my testimony, can we get together and go through it?”
    • Don’t procrastinate. Your attorney should already know the law. You need to supply helpful information. If your attorney asks for anything, go get it and do so without delay. Parents sometimes get depressed and fall into a state of mind where they are not helpful. You don’t have the privilege of doing nothing.
    • Don’t spend a lot of time complaining. Clients frequently complain about CPS workers, foster parents, the judge, the Guardian ad Litem and the Prosecutor. Your attorney is not going to change the system just for your case. Complaining about the system is justifiable, but not helpful.
  • Focus on excellent parenting time. This is sometimes the most important thing that can happen. Parenting time supervisors are often very critical and even look for things to say about you that will put you in a bad light in court. Your job is to make parenting time go well even in a hostile environment. Never be late. Always be respectful and polite. Understand that you are not in charge until your kids are home and the case is closed.
  • Focus on fixing the problem. Even if you don’t agree that there is a problem, you need to have a strategy that is designed to work. A neglect/abuse case is all about a problem that the government sees with your home, your parenting or your protection of your children. You need to figure out what problem CPS sees and figure out how to address that. Don’t do anything without discussing it with your attorney, but the successful implementation of a strategy designed to address the issue presented in your case will almost always get your kids home quickly.

You always have the option of hiring your own attorney. If your finances improve and you can afford to do that, it is a viable option. If there is anything we can do to help you along the way, don’t hesitate to contact us about your Michigan CPS case.

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