Transparency is one way to curb the abuses involved in judges’ appointments of amicus attorneys, discovery masters and mediators. However, I cannot tell you easily who, for example, Judge Pratt is appointing in private cases and how much those appointees are being paid because almost no one is following a Supreme Court order that requires reporting of all appointees’ fees.
Scandals involving judicial appointments in Harris County courts in the mid-1990’s caused the Texas Supreme Court to issue an order that is still in effect but largely ignored. Click here to see full order. The 1997 order states in part:
Section 1. Every appointment made in a civil case, probate case, or proceeding governed by Titles 1, 2, or 4 of the Family Code, by a regular or assigned judge of any district court, constitutional county court, statutory county court, statutory probate court, court master or court referee of a person to a position for which any type of fee may be paid shall be made by written order.
Section 2. Every application or request for the payment of a fee by such an appointee shall be approved by the court of the judge making the appointment. This approval shall be accomplished by a separate written order.
The Supreme Court order requires the District Clerk to collect all orders for appointments and fees and compile a monthly report that must be available to the public. The Office of Court Administration compiles all of the reports state-wide and posts them on line in an Excel spreadsheet. Click here to see the state-wide report. However, the spreadsheet is too big and covers the entire state. I have taken the period September 2012 through June 2013 and created spreadsheets for each of Harris County’s family district courts and sorted by bar number, so you can see who is getting reported appointment fees. Click here to see my analysis of reported appointments for Judge Pratt in the 311th District Court. My next newsletter will include a similar analysis for each of the Harris County Family District Courts.
These reports on appointment fees, however, only show fees paid by the county (such as CPS cases) and almost ALL of the lucrative amicus appointments in private cases and most appointed mediations are not being reported. As we all know, one lucrative child custody case can yield a fee for an amicus attorney equal to the fees paid by the county in a hundred CPS cases. A review of the reported fees in Judge Pratt’s court for this nine month period shows the following top fee earners on appointments in CPS and other cases where the county paid the fees:
Here are three examples of amicus fees in private cases awarded to George Clevenger by Judge Pratt which were not reported to the state:
|Date||Case||Fee Amount (each party pays 50%)|
I am not saying that Mr. Clevenger did not deserve these modest amicus fees. Rather my point is that these fees are examples of the hundreds of fee award orders that were not reported at all and therefore I cannot tell you which lawyers are receiving the big, juicy amicus fees in any family court. It is thus not possible to draw correlations between the attorneys who receive appointment fees and those who support a particular judge with political contributions.
It is hard to even find out who is being appointed amicus because in many cases in Judge Pratt’s court, the orders appointing amicus attorneys or awarding amicus fees are not scanned and imaged. So, the only way to find those amicus orders is to review every single file document by document or find out about cases from other attorneys.
In all of the family courts, the fees for amicus attorneys and court appointed mediators in private cases are not being reported. None of the very large fees for court appointed custody evaluators, accountants, special masters and receivers are being reported. All of that violates the Supreme Court order and deprives all of us from knowing who is getting a lot of money in particular courts. We have all seen the Supreme Court’s Court Appointment and Fees Report that many mediators file with the clerk after mediations. It would be a simple matter for each court or the local rules to require these forms to be filed by every amicus, ad litem, mediator, receiver, custody evaluator and special master and then the clerks could easily spot the fees to report.