Child Reps And GALs Are Withdrawing From Cases As Court Reform Tensions Grow Under Whom Will Rat Out The Most State Actors?
March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
GALs Are Withdrawing From Cases As Court Reform Tensions Grow
Thomas B. Scheffey, The Connecticut Law TribuneMarch 14, 2014 |12 Comments
Increasingly angry tactics have been pervading the public inquiry into family court custody reform, triggering a fight-or-flight response from top members of the family bar.
Some are ready to throw in the towel, or at least take a long time out.
Dozens of lawyers who work as guardians ad litem (GALs) or attorneys for minor children are in the process of withdrawing their representation, or are no longer accepting such appointments.
For example, in the past 30 days, Steven Dembo, of Hartford’s Berman, Bourns, Aaron & Dembo, has asked to withdraw from four of his eight guardian ad litem appointments. The requests are due in part to increasing attacks of the work done by guardians ad litem on Internet websites and Facebook pages highlighting problems in Connecticut’s family courts.
At the Statewide Grievance Committee offices in East Hartford, the pace of grievances against family court guardians ad litem has risen to about three new complaints per week. “Three a week is outrageous,” said Geraldine Ficarro, of the Essex firm of Peck & Ficarro. Michael Bowler, bar counsel for the committee, said grievances are not tracked by law practice area, and are not public before actionable cause is found.
Ficcaro represents a Bloomfield woman in a high-conflict divorce case, Stevens v. Stevens. In that case, the guardian ad litem, Hartford lawyer Mary Bergamini, was the subject of a highly publicized grievance filing by Eric Stevens, accompanied by Hartford Democratic state representatives Minnie Gonzalez and Angel Arce.
On March 14, Bergamini asked to withdraw from the case in Hartford Superior Court. Bergammi said she’s made no decision on whether she will take additional GAL assignments in the future.
Other lawyers and law firms that are bowing out of the court-appointed work for the time being include Glastonbury-based Brown, Paindiris & Scott, Budlong & Barrett in Hartford, Jeffrey Mickelson in Hartford, and Barry Armata.
“In this atmosphere, really important issues are not being heard, due to the truly vicious nature of the attacks that are going on,” said Barbara Aaron, of Berman, Bourns. She and her firm focus on low-impact alternatives to adversarial litigation.
Another lawyer interviewed for this story asked to remain anonymous, out of fear for his family’s safety. “I’ve had a death threat before, many years ago,” in connection with family court representation. “My family doesn’t need this.”