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Guardian ad Litem board creation

Published (3/18/2010)
By Mike Cook
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The oversight of a group that advocates for the best interests of children in protection and parental rights cases could change.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), HF2990 would transfer the Guardian ad Litem function from the judicial branch to an independent board. Approved March 11 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee, it was sent to the House Finance Committee with a recommended referral to the House Public Safety Finance Division. A companion, SF2880, sponsored by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The proposal is modeled after the Public Defense Board, which supervises Minnesota’s public defender system.

Hilstrom said the bill would eliminate the conflict of interest between guardians, who represent the best interest of the child, but are appointed and paid for by the court system.

“Guardians ad Litem are appointed to conduct an independent investigation to determine the facts relevant to the situation of a child and family. This includes meeting with, and observing, the child in the home setting and considering the child’s wishes,” said State Court Administrator Sue Dosal. “They present to the court written reports and recommendations concerning the child’s best interests. … Trust and confidence in the judicial actions and orders is dependent upon the belief in the impartiality and the fairness of the process.”

The Judicial Council, the administrative policymaking authority for the state judicial branch, formed an advisory committee in 2007 to review the program and look at long-term systemic challenges and possible solutions.

“Tribal representatives, public defenders, the ombudspersons for families and mental health, and judges themselves, have expressed concern about this conflict of interest issue,” Dosal said.

State appropriations currently directed to the courts to oversee the program would be transferred to the board.

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