U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia
Date lawsuit filed: June 6, 2002, in the Superior Court of Fulton County, later removed by Defendants to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Status: Separate settlement agreements were reached with Fulton and DeKalb Counties in the spring of 2006, requiring each County to provide adequate and effective legal representation to all abused and neglected children coming under the jurisdiction of the counties’ juvenile courts. A neutral, court-appointed monitor was appointed for each county to measure progress with the terms of the agreement and issue periodic public compliance reports. DeKalb County successfully exited the settlement agreement with Children’s Rights in October of 2008, having met its obligation to significantly reduce attorneys’ caseloads and improve the quality of legal representation for children in the juvenile courts. Fulton County, which is still operating under the settlement agreement, has greatly increased the number of attorneys who represent the county’s foster children and created an independent office for Child Advocate Attorneys, as required. According to the monitor’s most recent report covering the twelve-month period ending June 30, 3009, Fulton County has made significant progress toward meeting required workload limits and improving the quality of children’s legal representation.
Reason for filing right-to-counsel claims: At the time the suit was brought, foster children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties (metropolitan Atlanta), the two largest counties in Georgia, received inadequate legal representation in juvenile court.
Evidence gathered in the suit showed that “child advocate attorneys” assigned to represent abused and neglected children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties had caseloads of between 400 and 500 children assigned per lawyer. Because of these excessive caseloads, which often resulted in children never meeting the lawyer assigned to them, the children were being deprived of adequate and effective legal representation.
Co-counsel: Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP, Atlanta, Georgia; Erik S. Pitchal,
Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Defendants: Fulton County, DeKalb County.
Judge: Hon. Marvin H. Shoob, Senior U.S. District Judge.
Brief history of the Case:
June 2002: Complaint filed.
Court rules that the case would proceed to trial as a class action on
behalf of all 3,000 foster children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
Plaintiffs take the deposition of Marvin Ventrell, Executive Director of
the National Association of Counsel for Children, concerning national
caseload standards for lawyers representing children.