Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, November 18, 2002


Page 3


County Attorneys Recommend Paying $250,000 to Settle Children’s Advocates Claim for Legal Fees


By a MetNews Staff Writer


County lawyers have recommended paying child advocates and their appellate attorneys $250,000 to settle a legal fee claim stemming from the county’s resistance to a judge’s order that every child in foster care be visited monthly.

The Alliance for Children’s Rights won its suit against the county, which appealed after a bitter and divisive fight in the Board of Supervisors. The Encino firm of Horvitz & Levy represented the alliance in the Court of Appeal, won, and obtained a state Supreme Court decision not to review, then joined with its client in a demand for legal fees of $450,000.

Assistant County Counsel Ada Gardiner of the Children’s Services Litigation & Training Division said in a memo that the county negotiated the figure down and now should pay up.

“Although some hours and rates claimed by the Alliance and their appellate attorneys may be questioned, most appear justified, and the type of documentation on which other courts have awarded fees,” Gardiner said in a Wednesday memo to the county Claims Board. “Therefore, we believe that a compromise of $250,000 is an acceptable and desirable settlement. The amount is approximately half the demand and essentially eliminates a multiplier.”

The Claims Board meets this morning to discuss whether to recommend approving the settlement. Final approval would have to come from the Board of Supervisors.

Board members squabbled openly after Department of Children and Family Services chief Anita Bock asked that they approve an appeal from an order by then-Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Terry Friedman requiring social workers to make monthly visits to every one of the county’s nearly 60,000 children in foster care. Under Friedman’s order, only dependency court judges could approve visit waivers.

Previously, the department made its own determination of which and how many foster children had to get the standard monthly visits and how many qualified for exemptions.

The alliance sought Friedman’s order, which was granted in 2000. The Court of Appeal upheld it in February of this year.

Acrimony in the board reached new heights in February of this year when Bock asked the supervisors to seek a rehearing. Friedman by then had been assigned to the Superior Court in Santa Monica, and the board on a 3-2 vote asked county lawyers to file for rehearing while exploring other options with new Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash.

Bock and her backers on the board were trying to head off a job action by children’s social workers, who complained that they already had far too many cases to handle properly and that they were underpaid.

Each social worker carried an average monthly caseload of 54.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael Antonovich blasted Bock and the board majority for spending money on legal fees in a losing battle, rather than on improving the plight of the county’s foster children.

Bock later resigned her post.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company