Reprinted from the August 21, 2014 Mongoose. Most Republican judges and party leaders, to their credit, realize that the brewing scandal involving court appointments and their former party chair, Gary Polland, has the potential to effect the November elections. They also realize that the current system just is not right. They point out to me that Democratic politicians, such as legislators who are also attorneys, are getting lucrative appointments from Democratic civil judges.
The solution is very simple: a commitment by judges to appoint attorneys based on merit only and transparency of information. All judges of both parties should simply stop using court appointments as political patronage and ALL appointments and fees should be reported and made available to the public.
Currently, the system hides appointment fees and makes it very difficult to determine accurately how much various attorneys are being paid. The County Auditor website is a great example of sharing information with its searchable database of payments which includes all courts. However, I cannot tell what courts those payments came from and the cause numbers appear to be wrong. Most of the cause numbers the auditor has associated with fees paid to Mr. Polland, for example, do not appear to be cases Polland is working on.
The monthly report sent by the District Clerk on appointments misses most appointment fees and is very incomplete because the Supreme Court order only requires the clerk to report the fees. Judges and attorneys are not required to report appointment fees to the clerk. A 38 page divorce decree might contain an award of $2,400 for the amicus attorney on page 27, so how is the clerk supposed to know the fee award is there? Also, the ancient JIMS program still used by the District Clerk makes it very hard for the clerks to gather this information.
At least until yesterday, I could see CPS cases in family courts on-line and print Polland’s pay vouchers and most of the pleadings he had filed. Polland makes most of his money from the juvenile courts and I cannot access those cases on line.
Here are four findings I can report so far in my investigation into Mr. Polland’s billing for fees for court appointments (in addition to the fact he has been paid $1.9 million since January 2010 for court appointments):
1. It looks like three-quarters of Polland’s civil appointments come from the three judges: disgraced former judge Denise Pratt, Judge James Lombardino and, especially, Juvenile Judge Michael Schneider. Admittedly, this is based on the District Clerk report of fees in civil cases to the state and we know this report is incomplete, but it matches with what I can see on-line when I search for cases with Polland’s bar number. I cannot see CPS cases in juvenile courts on-line, so perhaps judges Devlin and Phillips are under-reported in this count. Maybe Schneider actually appoints Polland less than the other juvenile judges but his fees are reported and their’s are not. I know this count of cases does not include criminal cases for adults or juveniles or probate cases. This count is based on the number of fee awards reported to the State this fiscal year.
2. Polland, and almost all CPS ad litems, are not complying with the Supreme Court rule that requires attorneys to redact sensitive information about children from pleadings or file the pleading with the note,”This document contains sensitive data.” Polland does most of his work in the juvenile courts where these records are not posted on-line, so perhaps he was so used to that system that he did not bother with these tiresome new Supreme Court rules on privacy in court filings. However, none of the other ad litems or even the County Attorney, who represents CPS, are following those rules either.
I attach to this newsletter, along with vouchers, a few sample home visit reports which Polland filed with the court (I at least redacted these reports to protect the child). These home visit reports have blank signature blocks for Polland and are usually not signed. These reports all state,”A home visit was conducted…” It seems like Polland should write,”I conducted a home visit…” or “The guardian/attorney ad litem conducted a home visit…” Polland’s wording of these reports almost implies that someone other than Mr. Polland performed the home visit. However, that surely could not be the case if Polland is billing the county as if he, the attorney appointed by the judge and the only person authorized by statute to be paid by the county, performed the home visit.
The good family court judges who care and follow the law seem to universally expect the person they appoint as ad litem to personally perform the home visits with children as required by law. I certainly hope this is what is happening in Mr. Polland’s cases.
4. Polland seems to be the only ad litem who files in almost every case a motion to be paid $100 instead of $75 per hour for out of court work, which would include home visits. These motions never seem to be ruled on, because his proposed orders are never signed by the judges. However, the judges are approving vouchers that pay Polland $100 per hour for home visits.
To be fair to Mr. Polland, besides last week’s invitation to provide his side of the story contained in my newsletter, I sent this fax to Polland:
I specifically seek your answers to these questions:
I just paid the County Auditor a big chunk of money to obtain every voucher Polland submitted during a three month period last year so that a detailed, day-by-day analysis can be performed. My investigators will soon be checking with foster parents to see who exactly did the home visits with the children CPS placed with them. Expect to hear more from me soon!
If Mr. Polland writes me back and answers my questions, I will issue an immediate special issue. He can put some of this controversy to an end by simply affirming that he does his own home visits and his bills accurately reflect the time he spends on his cases.