A note from Thomasina Moore, Statewide Director of Appeals -
With this newsletter the Guardian ad Litem Program celebrates the first anniversary of its Defending Best Interests Project, a first-of-its-kind initiative which systematically uses pro bono legal services to represent children in Florida’s appellate courts. The DBI Project started out as an effort to find volunteers to provide advocacy for children in 25 appellate cases and has ballooned into a hugely successful partnership between the GAL Program and private attorneys which is yielding top notch legal advocacy for children.
Faced with an 11% spike in children coming into out-of-home care, the GAL Program looked for creative ways to serve these vulnerable children. The Defending Best Interest Project recruits attorneys to serve pro bono on appellate cases where a judicial determination of best interests is being challenged on appeal. The pro bono attorneys write the legal argument with help from the GAL Program. This has allowed the Program to shift resources from its appellate team to address the immediate needs of children in the trial courts.
As the numbers below show, GAL’s Project has far exceeded all expectations. Instead of 25, we’ve assigned a whopping 125! Here’s how the numbers break down:
125 cases assigned
Over 2500 hours volunteered, at a value of more than $725,000
230 children represented
The overwhelming success of the Program was even recognized by Florida TaxWatch, when we won the Prudential Productivity Award!
Additionally, the DBI Project has enhanced the quality of the Program’s appellate advocacy. While the Program has always had a strong appellate department (participating in over 600 appeals last year, including in the United States Supreme Court), the depth and variety of experience among the appellate practitioners volunteering has raised the Program’s game even higher! Private attorneys who have volunteered for the project include numerous board certified appellate specialists, former Law Clerks for Florida’s Supreme Court and District Courts, and “Super Lawyer” award winners. The members of Appellate Law Section of The Florida Bar have provided overwhelming support to the initiative.
The biggest winners, however, are the children. Of the 230 children represented 140 have reached permanency and 23 have been adopted. DBI Lawyers have a near-perfect record, prevailing on all but one of the appeals undertaken. This is how the Guardian ad Litem Program is the “x-factor” for children, the multiplier, the exponent: – by matching the needs of the children with the special skills of its volunteers, by using innovative collaborations, and by always putting the best interests of children first. I am honored to have worked with such talented, generous lawyers, and for any of you who are reading this article – thank you!