MINOR’S COUNSEL, THE ATTORNEY FOR THE CHILD – STILL CONTROVERSIAL
In more and more cases, the courts are relying on Minor’s Counsel to assist in the resolution of cases. In some jurisdictions, the use of minor’s counsel is almost routine. A number of factors have led to the greater use of attorneys for children. Because of the limited resources of Family Court Services, fewer cases are being resolved in mediation and it’s also taking longer for child custody evaluations. Even the “fast-track” evaluations have been renamed, in part because it’s not a speedy way of getting recommendations before the court. Minor’s Counsel often provides information to courts in a more timely manner. Often the newer bench officers are utilizing attorneys for children much more than the more experienced judges. Concerns about the greater use of Minor’s Counsel have long been raised by attorneys who believe too much rides on a quick assessment with no written report; mental health professionals have expressed concerns about some attorneys who aren’t experienced in interviewing and assessing the needs of young children. Concerns have also been raised about the uneven quality of the representation. Minimum and uniform training requirements have been established but the program still has its share of detractors.
Because Family Court Services no longer provides comprehensive child custody evaluations, along with the high cost of private evaluations, judges are appointing more Minor’s Counsel in custody cases. The courts appreciate how quickly these attorneys can provide input for the judges.
One of the Elkins Task Force recommendations was for more training for attorneys servicing as minor’s counsel. The next training for lawyers want to serve as Minor’s Counsel will be held in October; completion of the training will be a requirement for Minor’s Counsel Appointments.
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David Kuroda is the former Division Chief, Family Court Services, Superior Court of Los Angeles and directed the Mediation and Conciliation Service, the first and largest court mediation program in the nation.
In his 18 years with the Superior Court, he was responsible for the district courts, the PACT and Contemnors’ Programs, Divorce Seminars, and Visitation Monitors. Under his leadership, the service set high standards for the mediation service and other innovative programs serving children and families of divorce.
He has served on numerous committees with the Judicial Council, Los Angeles County Bar Executive Committee, Family Law Section, and has collaborated on numerous programs with the bar associations of the South Bay, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He’s the past vice-president of A Better Divorce: A group of collaborative professionals; he also serves as vice-president of the California Social Welfare Archives., on he advisory board of the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association, and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter and with the George Nickel Award by the California Social Welfare Archives, USC.
In addition to directing the program, he has personally provided mediation services to over 7,000 families from the working poor to the wealthy and famous, including high profile cases and movie producers. Virtually all parents, whatever their backgrounds, love their children, and with some guidance, have been able to work together, even after divorce. Mr. Kuroda has provided training for graduate students from USC, and has taught professionals child custody mediation.