Counties to get bill in more child protection court cases
GRANITE FALLS -- The bill for court-appointed attorneys in child protection and parental termination cases is now going directly to counties. State cutbacks have led the public defender's office in the Eighth Judicial District to reject all appoi...
GRANITE FALLS -- The bill for court-appointed attorneys in child protection and parental termination cases is now going directly to counties.
State cutbacks have led the public defender's office in the Eighth Judicial District to reject all appointments in these cases as of July 8. The attorneys are also terminating their role in existing child protection cases admitted to trial, District Judge Bruce Christopherson told the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
State rules and statute require that the courts appoint an attorney to represent parents in cases when the legal assistance is requested and the parents qualify based on a means test. In almost every case when the assistance is requested, the parent qualifies for the support, Christopherson told the commissioners.
The county will be charged the district's going rate of $75 an hour for the legal help, according to the information presented at the meeting.
It's unclear what sort of financial impact the state budget cutback will have in Yellow Medicine County, but it will not be as great as originally feared, according to County Attorney Keith Helgeson.
Thanks to efforts by social services, the county is seeing a reduction in the number of situations requiring court intervention, according to Helgeson.
He said that the county attorney's office brought 26 "children in need of protection" cases to the courts in 2006. The number dropped to 17 in 2007 and so far this year, only four cases have been filed.
Also, he pointed out that only a small number of these cases require court-appointed attorneys. Of the 17 cases in 2007, only six of the cases involved public defenders.
Christopherson said that cases to terminate parental rights are rare all by themselves: He has seen only two in nearly 22 years on the bench.
But Helgeson and Christopherson cautioned that it is impossible to predict the number of cases that will require a court-appointed attorney in any given year, or what the costs in any case might reach.
Helgeson also made a point on the unpredictable costs associated with these cases. Just recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Yellow Medicine County in a termination of parental rights case. The total tab to the county to get to this point is somewhere in the area of $12,000, he estimated.
Without a doubt, the reduction in the state public defender's budget will show itself in higher costs to counties. Along with child protection cases and cases to terminate parental rights, counties are also responsible for the costs of court-appointed attorneys when needed in cases involving guardianship, conservatorship and commitment and in appeals of cases to terminate parental rights, Christopherson told the commissioners.
The public defender's office for the Eighth Judicial District cut two attorneys 75 percent schedules, or 1.5 full-time equivalents, due to the state budget cuts, according to Christopherson. The public defender's office for the district includes 20 attorneys, including two with full-time schedules for court-appointed work, four with 50 percent and 12 with 75 percent schedules, according to information provided at the meeting.