Judge dismisses lawsuit that challenged guardian ad litem system

July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Judge dismisses lawsuit that challenged guardian ad litem system

Published: July 17, 2013

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Moscow man who challenged Lackawanna County’s use of court-appointed attorneys in private child custody disputes.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann on Monday said the lawsuit filed by Dr. Michael Stefanov could not be heard in federal court because it involves an ongoing matter in state court.

Dr. Stefanov filed suit in March 2012 against Lackawanna County, Judges Trish Corbett, Chester Harhut and Thomas Munley and attorney Danielle Ross, who served as guardian ad litem, a court appointed attorney who represents the interest of the child in disputed custody matters.

Dr. Stefanov claimed Mrs. Ross, who is awaiting trial on charges of income tax evasion related to her court work, violated his constitutional rights by demanding he follow her often-unreasonable directives under the threat she would preclude him from seeing his son if he did not comply.

The lawsuit also faulted the county court system, alleging judges too freely appointed Mrs. Ross to cases where her intervention was not warranted, and failed to monitor her behavior to ensure she was not violating parents’ rights.

Judge Brann’s ruling does not address the merits of Dr. Stefanov’s claims as it is based on a legal interpretation of whether the case was properly before the federal court.

Attorneys for the county argued the case should be dismissed because it involves a custody case in state court. Federal appellate courts have previously held that the federal court system should not interfere with a state court proceeding except in extraordinary circumstances.

Dr. Stefanov’s attorney, Paul Cianci, argued the custody matter was not ongoing since a final custody order was issued in 2010. Judge Brann agreed with the county’s attorneys, who maintained the custody case was ongoing because the custody order could be modified at any time.

Mr. Cianci declined to comment on whether Dr. Stefanov will appeal the ruling.

The decision ends the civil case, but Mrs. Ross still faces trial in federal on charges she failed to pay income tax on approximately $200,000 she collected between 2009 and 2010 from parents for her guardian ad litem work. No trial date has been set.

Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock.com


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