Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Case Development: Attorneys have no Property Interest in their Family Court Appointment Practice

Attorneys who had established a specialty practice representing individuals before the Family Court Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court, including volunteering as court appointed attorneys, sued the court, judges and officies of the DC Public Defender Service arguing that their property interest "taken" by District of Columbia Superior Court Administrative Order, which established panels of lawyers who were eligible for appointment to represent indigent parties in family court matters. The order established panels of qualified attorneys for representation of indigent clients in four types of cases: (1) juveniles alleged to be delinquent or in need of supervision, (2) minor children needing guardians ad litem in neglect and termination proceedings, (3) parents and caretakers in neglect and termination proceedings, and (4) children needing special education advocates.

The district court dismissed the attorneys' claims for money damages but did not dismiss their claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed and remanded with directions to dismiss the Fifth Amendment claims.

The court of appeals held that the attorneys asserted no property interest that was protected by the Fifth Amendment, as they had no guaranteed entitlement to compensated appointments prior to the order. "There never has been a statute or rule, or even a practice, securing to attorneys a right to compensated Family Court Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court appointments. And a lawyer's inability to make a living as a family court practitioner without such appointments does not remotely create an entitlement."  The court also noted that the defendant judges were entitled to judicial immunity with respect to their role in the panel selection process. 

Roth v. King, June 9, 2006
Opinion on the web (last visited June 13, 2006 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2006/06/case_developmen.html

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