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Saturday, April 4, 2015


In the family court system the immunity from liability extended to court professionals who arises from the concept of judicial immunity.  In other words, the immunity that judges are entitled to is also granted to other professionals within the legal system who are considered integral to the legal process.  Judges cannot be sued for any of the judicial acts they take in their capacity as judges, although they can be sued in regard to their administrative acts.  This immunity given to judges obtain is supposed to free them up to make the kinds of principled and fearless decisions necessary in order to serve the interests of justice in the court system.

There are two kinds of immunity that can be extended to professionals who work within the legal system. There is qualified quasi-judicial immunity which still leaves you liable if you act maliciously or wantonly outside the law, and then there is absolute quasi-judicial immunity which means that you can't be held liable no matter how badly you behave.  

State Officials have qualified quasi-judicial immunity for actions performed during the course of their duties in their work.   Public defenders are also at the same level--they have qualified quasi-judicial immunity.  But there are other court employees who are considered entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity because their work is thought to be integral to the judicial process. These include judges' law clerks, prosecutors, witnesses, and court-appointed professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists--the list begins to get quite long.  

For example, the Supreme Court decision in the Corrubba case goes further to mention other functionaries such as bankruptcy trustees, probation officers, court appointed receivers and court appointed medical examiners that are also entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity.

When the Supreme Court in Corrubba v. Moskowitz affirmed the right of AMCs to absolute quasi-judicial immunity, it did so by adopting a three pronged test for establishing immunity developed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  These three prongs are as follows:

1) Does the official in question perform functions sufficiently comparable to those officials who have traditionally been afforded absolute immunity at common law;

2.  Is the likelihood of harassment or intimidation by personal liability sufficiently great to interfere with the official's performance of his or her duties;

3.  Do procedural safeguards exist in the system that would adequately protect against improper conduct by the official. 

In regard to prong #1--functionality--to understand how the issue of functionality could be interpreted in regard to a Guardian Ad Litem, an Attorney for the Minor Child, and a regular attorney, you would have to understand their respective positions. 

A Guardian Ad Litem's job is to pursue an investigation and return with recommendations which serve the children's best interests.  An AMC is required not only to advocate on behalf of the children's legal rights, he or she is also expected to work on behalf of the children's best interests, so she has a double  role.  A regular attorney simply advocates diligently for the legal rights of his client and develops strategies to obtain those rights. 

Attorney George Kramer for the Plaintiff, Paul Carrubba, argued that an Attorney For the Minor child's job isn't in the least bit different than that of a regular attorney who is diligently advocating for his client's legal position. 

In contrast, the Amicus Brief in support of the Defendant Emily Moskowitz, argued that an Attorney For the Minor Child has the unenviable task of determining when to advocate for the children's legal position, and when the children's insight and capacity for decision making is deficient to the point where the Attorney For the Minor Child is obligated to push for the children's best interests instead. 

Further, Attorney Robert Kor pointed out that an Attorney For the Minor child doesn't have the same freedom when advocating for their child clients.  Specifically, an AMC is not authorized to have a psychiatrist or psychologist evaluate a child or his or her parents for a custody evaluation without the authorization of the Court.  Furthermore, an Attorney For the Minor Child is not able to proceed with a deposition or an appeal without the permission of the Court. 

Of course, I am not sure that balancing out the warring imperatives of legal rights versus best interests of the child standard inherent in an AMC's job is any different than balancing out the warring imperatives a family court attorney has between winning at all costs versus taking into consideration the needs of the children in a dissolution of marriage action. 

And while an AMC may not be able to proceed with various evaluations or depositions, the likelihood is that the parents' attorneys will conduct both of those activities for the better part and thus provide sufficient information for an AMC to advocate his or her position.  So these are very minor differences.

Prong 2--harassment--the U.S. Supreme Court test raised the question of whether AMC's would be the subject of harassment from parents and thus be unable to do their jobs without judicial immunity.  Attorney Kor proposed that if AMCs didn't obtain immunity, such attorneys would be so afraid of reprisals they wouldn't be able to do their jobs.  He proposed that "to deny the protection of immunity would exert a chilling effect on all court-appointed attorneys for minor children." 

Of course, reading that statement, I dwell on the word "would", indicating the future.  Is Attorney Kor implying that the chilling effect would only happen in the future because it hasn't happened in the past?  I would have loved to have seen the actual statistics in the decade leading up to the Carrubba v. Moskowitz decision--was there a paucity of Attorneys For the Minor Child at that time because of ongoing chilling effects that resulted from disgruntled and angry parents?  Was the Children's Law Center dangling on the brink of extinction because of this chilling effect?  

Somehow I doubt that. 

It is so easy, particularly within the context of a lawsuit to make unfounded statements because they sound good.  I often wish that judges could have as great an understanding as family court victims do in regard to how cheap talk is, particularly without evidence. 

Finally, Prong 3 asks the question of whether there is any recourse when an AMC goes rogue and acts negligently or maliciously.  According to the Defendant there were options.  For example, Paul Carrubba could have gone to the judge and ask to have the AMC removed.  Of course, Mr. Carrubba did that, but was summarily turned down. 

Anyone who has gone through a difficult divorce knows that a Trial Judge will never disqualify a Guardian Ad Litem or An Attorney for the Minor Child no matter how disruptive, negligent and unethical their behavior is.  Somehow judges are able to redefine the horrendous actions of negligent GALs and AMCs and redefine them as insignificant. 

thus, if you look how the Supreme Court decision, you will see how it redefines Paul Carrubba's complaint against Attorney Emily Moskowitz for spouting profanity and lying as merely "express[ing] dissatisfaction with the manner in which the defendant carried out her court-appointed role." 

Wow, if that's all that is, well, ok. 

The same goes for Statewide Grievance.  A family court litigant will never get satisfaction by submitting a complaint to Statewide Grievance even when there are criminal actions involved. 

So what these Supreme Court Judges did in going through the three prong test, particularly when it comes to the final prong is provide a fully developed piece of verbal nonsense in order to open the door to even more exploitation and family court corruption by granting absolute judicial immunity to Attorneys For the Minor Child. 

That panel of judges--Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer and Vertefeuille--who wrote the decision, in my opinion, knew exactly what they were doing, the havoc they would wreak by granting absolute quasi-judicial immunity to AMCs, and they did it anyway.  This is why we so desperately need to make sure that Bill #5505 is passed in the legislature this year, to begin to repair the harm and damage that has been done to so many families as the result of these irresponsible and improper decisions.

Before I close this discussion, I do want to mention that Paul Carrubba also filed a negligence complaint on behalf of his son, Mathew Carrubba, acting as a "next friend".  I didn't go into this subject as extensively as the issue of AMC judicial immunity.  However, I do think it is worth mentioning that all the way down the line, from superior court, to appellate court, and finally on the supreme court level, Paul Carrubba was essentially denied the right to pursue an action on behalf of his child. 

Specifically, the Supreme Court determined that during a dissolution action, the child's interests are assumed to diverge automatically from that of the parents and so, therefore, Paul Carrubba lacked standing.  The Amicus Brief quoted Linda D. Elrod's article "Raising the Bar for Lawyers Who Represent Children" stating that "Only the child should have any right of any action against a 'Child's Attorney' or a "Best Interest Attorney'". 

So, how exactly is a child supposed to do this?  Is this just another one of those weird half-baked things that attorneys say in order to sideline common sense?

I cannot be sure. But one thing I do know, it is time to restore sanity to our Connecticut Family Court System.  It is time GALs and AMCs were held accountable, and it is time that the CT Judicial Branch stopped trashing parents who know far more than any paid professional who just met them what is in the best interests of their children.

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