In recent years, there have been several attempts by dissatisfied family law litigants to sue lawyers appointed by the courts to serve various roles. This case involves an attempt to sue a court-appointed child’s representative for legal malpractice. This is now the third decision holding that the child’s representative has absolute immunity from a legal malpractice lawsuit. The court reasoned that the child’s representative was appointed by the court and was therefore immune.
The policy reason to grant absolute immunity is to protect the court’s ability to appoint a child’s representative. The child’s representative is appointed by statute and must confer with the child and make evidence based legal arguments on behalf of the child. Were the court to allow everyone who lost a custody case to sue the child’s representative, so the theory goes, it would make it difficult to have a child’s representative appointed. Slippery Slope arguments are usually rejected by courts because every class of defendant in every case has, at one time or another, made such an argument. Prior decisions in Illinois rejecting similar claims are Vlastelica v. Brend, 2011 IL App (1st) 102587 and Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967 (7th Cir. 2009).
Here the slippery slope argument may make some sense. It is better policy to have the disgruntled parent file a motion in the family law case to remove the child’s representative. In that way the judge handling the family law matter can make a decision based on what she observed of the proceedings. Asking another court (hearing a legal malpractice claim) to decide whether or not the Child’s representative did his job correctly is almost impossible.
The statute governing the role of child’s representative provides that:
(3) Child representative. The child representative shall advocate what the child representative finds to be in the best interests of the child after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case. The child representative shall meet with the child and the parties, investigate the facts of the case, and encourage settlement and the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution. The child representative shall have the same authority and obligation to participate in the litigation as does an attorney for a party and shall possess all the powers of investigation as does a guardian ad litem. The child representative shall consider, but not be bound by, the expressed wishes of the child. A child representative shall have received training in child advocacy or shall possess such experience as determined to be equivalent to such training by the chief judge of the circuit where the child representative has been appointed. The child representative shall not disclose confidential communications made by the child, except as required by law or by the Rules of Professional Conduct. The child representative shall not render an opinion, recommendation, or report to the court and shall not be called as a witness, but shall offer evidence-based legal arguments. The child representative shall disclose the position as to what the child representative intends to advocate in a pre-trial memorandum that shall be served upon all counsel of record prior to the trial. The position disclosed in the pre-trial memorandum shall not be considered evidence. The court and the parties may consider the position of the child representative for purposes of a settlement conference.” 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(3) (West 2014).
The reasoning behind these decisions makes sense where the plaintiff, as in this case, is really a disgruntled parent. The court system is better off if someone complaining about a child’s representative is forced to air those complaints before the judge handling the family law matter.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.