The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts released its report on the Lackawanna County court guardian ad litem program. The 113-page report determined that the program suffers from a lack of oversight and financial accountability and provided 51 recommendations for improvement. The recommendations deal mostly with instituting measures of more stringent record keeping, evaluating the success of the guardian ad litem program, and implementing continuing training programs. Further, the report recommends that the Lackawanna Court “determine whether it is wise to assign the majority of custody cases to one guardian ad litem. Because of her caseload and responsibilities, "it is difficult to envision" how one guardian ad litem can effectively handle all of the duties of the position.”
The report was commissioned by Lackawanna County President Judge Thomas J. Munley in response to allegations of misconduct against Danielle Ross, the county’s primary guardian ad litem appointed to represent children since 2008. A federal lawsuit was filed in March of 2012 alleging that Ms. Ross had “... with the knowledge, consent, assistance and/or ratification of the [Court] set out to create…a system in which the [family court] would use a guardian ad litem in all or in virtually all custody proceedings and she would be the only guardian ad litem…”
In light of the report, Judge Munley has appointed Judge Trish Corbett to oversee the family court program. Judge Corbett stated that, “"All and all, I think it was positive, and certainly, it was the intent of family court to put the child first. It would be my goal to implement each of the recommendations." She also indicated that Ms. Ross’s contract is up at the end of the month and that no decision had been made about potentially replacing her.
In November 2011, the FBI issued subpoenas to collect information about the inner workings of the program. A grand jury investigation is also underway. The outcome of both investigations is unknown.
More information on the report is available here.
UPDATE: The Legal Intelligencer reports that several lawyers and litigants who have had cases involving Lackawanna County court appointed guardian ad litem, Danielle Ross, take exception to the AOPC’s report finding no misconduct on the part of Ms. Ross. Complaints against Ms. Ross include allegations that she billed both parties in a divorce for her time (double billing) and that she insisted on being involved in cases where no guardian ad litem was required.