HCBA Lawyer Magazine Vol. 29, No. 1 | Page 28

A VoiCe for CHildren in need : Volunteer for A guArdiAn Ad liteM AppeAl
Appellate practice section Chairs : Tom Seider – Brannock & Humphries and Joe Eagleton – Brannock & Humphries

As lawyers , we should all aspire to help the neediest among us . This is not just a moral imperative , but also a professional one : the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct recommend that every lawyer donate at least 20 hours of time to pro-bono causes . See R . Regulating Fla . Bar 4-6.1 .

This article offers a worthy cause for those hours : representing the abandoned and neglected children of our state ’ s dependency system . There is a tremendous need : over 32,000 children are currently under the jurisdiction of Florida ’ s dependency courts . See Statewide Guardian ad Litem Annual Report ( 2018 ), https :// perma . cc / AA3V-N3FZ .
Florida ’ s Guardian ad Litem attorneys appear in court to serve the best interests of these children . This is crucial , life-changing work , providing a voice to children who would otherwise be unable to advocate on their own behalf . But the Guardian ad Litem program can only do so much . There are still thousands of children who will go through dependency proceedings without a lawyer . See Fla . Children ’ s First and U . of Florida Levin of College of L . Ctr . on Children and Fam ., Legal Representation of Children , a 2012 Report on Florida ’ s Patchwork System ( Feb . 2012 ), https :// perma . cc / 4VRR-E8NF .
in the 2017-18 Bar year , lawyers from the florida Bar ’ s Appellate practice section donated over 1,300 hours to the project , resulting in 23 adoptions , four permanent guardianships , and 15 children reunified with their parents .
Now , there is an opportunity for appellate lawyers to help . Thomasina Moore , the Guardian ad Litem program ’ s director of appeals , has created the “ Defending Best Interests Project ” — a pro bono initiative that connects volunteers with children who are defending favorable dependencycourt rulings on appeal . Aware of the strain that a pro bono appeal can put on an attorney , Moore has done everything she can to streamline the volunteering process .
It really is very straightforward . To sign up , send an email expressing your interest to Joe Eagleton ( JEagleton @ bhappeals . com ), who chairs our HCBA Appellate Practice Section ’ s Pro Bono Committee . Once signed up , you will start receiving email blasts — just a few a month — that identify specific Guardian ad Litem appeals in need of briefing . You will also receive all the relevant information about the case : the size of the record and the trial transcript , the length of the initial brief , and the issues raised on appeal . Appeals are assigned on a firstcome , first-serve basis , so there is never any pressure to take a case
when you do not have the capacity . When you do accept a case , the Guardian ad Litem program makes your life easier by providing administrative support , which includes transmitting the electronic record , sharing templates and examples from the program ’ s brief bank , and filing the answer brief .
The “ Defending Best Interests Project ” — dreamed up just a year ago — is already a resounding success . In the 2017-18 Bar year , lawyers from The Florida Bar ’ s Appellate Practice Section donated over 1,300 hours to the project , resulting in 23 adoptions , four permanent guardianships , and 15 children reunified with their parents . More than that , the Guardian ad Litem program was able to take an additional 475 children as clients thanks to a lightened appellate workload .
But this is just the beginning . There is so much more that can be done , and thousands of children are still in need . So what are you waiting for ? Sign up today .
Author : Tom Seider – Brannock & Humphries
2 6 S E P T - O C T 2 0 1 8 | H C B A L A W Y E R