Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem
Before 2005: No Existence of Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem
Prior to 2005 (when the Wyoming Legislature created the Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem in Session Law), each county was responsible for choosing, hiring, reimbursing, and supervising any GAL practicing in their county’s juvenile court. This duty was left to many different individuals, and varied from county to county. In some counties, the Judge was responsible, while in others the responsibility belonged to the county clerk.
What is historically obvious was the lack of standardization across the state. The quality of representation a child received in juvenile court in Wyoming depended largely upon the county in which the child resided. Similarly, as an attorney GAL, the rate of pay and worthiness of the GAL work as an attorney depended largely on the county in which the attorney practiced. In some counties an attorney was paid over $100.00 per hour, but in others, they weren’t paid at all. In some instances, a GAL was given a flat rate of $250.00 for the life of a case, even when it would last many, many years.
Other specifications would also vary in great degree from county to county. Some GALs were trained in the specialty of children’s law and juvenile court, but others were not. Some GALs met with their clients, others did not. Some GALs had relatively few clients, while others had over 200 clients—the list goes on. In an effort to address these disparities of representation and pay throughout Wyoming, the legislature created the Agency, appropriated $4,200,000 per biennium for the representation of child clients in juvenile court, and TPR or appellate proceedings arising from these juvenile court actions. The Program was placed at the Wyoming Supreme Court, in the judicial branch of government.
2005: Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem Created Under the Wyoming Supreme Court
Upon creation of the Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem beginning on July 1, 2005, the Wyoming Supreme Court set-up a reimbursement program for the Wyoming counties. The Program maintained a list of qualified GALs that each county could choose from when appointing a GAL for a juvenile court action in their county. If the county used a GAL from the approved list, then the county was able to bill the Supreme Court for 75% of the costs of those GAL legal services. The Supreme Court adopted Rule 106 to the District Court Rules, which set out basic standards of practice, qualifications for being placed on the qualified list of GALs, and caseload maximums. At the time, the caseload maximum was 65 cases per part-time attorney.
While the Agency saw many successes in its time at the Supreme Court, such as standards, caseload maximums, qualifications, pay standardization to $100.00 per hour, and increased training; there were still concerns that needed addressed. Counties and judges would waive the benefit of billing the program for the state match so that they could continue to appoint GALs who did not meet the qualifications set forth in Rule 106. Further, GALs were not supervised, so there was no way to ensure that they were meeting with clients or doing what was required of them as the client’s GAL. At the time, there existed no complaint process for children or other stakeholders to report concerns with the GAL’s representation. Aditionally, there were still attorneys who were above the caseload maximum in place and others who were over-charging for their services to an extreme. For these reasons and others, the Wyoming Legislature moved the Agency to the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) effective July 1, 2008.
2008: Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem Moved Under the Wyoming Office of the State Public Defender
Among the many changes made by the State Public Defender (SPD) when the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) took over the administration of the Agency, the first was hiring an attorney to run and oversee the Program. This allowed the Program to establish a supervisory role of the GALs and also provide robust case resources and assistance. The OPD adopted rules through the ABA rules process to govern the Program and the GALs, adopted policies, and changed the reimbursement method to the counties so that the Program paid the costs up-front, then billed the counties quarterly for the 25% match.
Beginning July 1, 2008, all GALs who represented children in juvenile court had to contract with the OPD instead of the counties in which they practiced. The GAL was then paid directly via the Agency and the program billed the counties for the 25% match. This allowed a greater connection between the state dollars and the legal representation, and it also gave the Agency a different role with attorney GALs. Some of the other major changes made at this time included changing the caseload standards; increasing the specificity of the representation standards in the rules; and taking over the case appointment process to ensure qualified and appropriate attorneys are assigned, caseloads are suitable, and attorneys are appointed in a timely manner, or before the shelter care hearing.
2012: Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem Codified
In the 2012 legislative budget session, a bill was introduced and passed that codified the Wyoming Guardians Ad Litem Program. The bill, Senate File 99-Enrolled Act 40, was sponsored by Senators Nicholas, Perkins, and Ross, and Representatives Gingery, Berger, and Lubnau. Governor Mead then signed the bill into law on on March 13, 2012.
There were five total sections of the bill. Section One set forth the Legislature’s intent to codify what it had previously created by session law. Section Two created Wyoming Statutes §§ 14-12-101 through 14-12-104, now known as the Wyoming Guardian ad Litem Program statutes. Section Three contained conforming amendments to include the PD and GAL contract attorneys under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act and the state self-insurance program; added the duty of administering the Wyoming Office of Guardian ad Litem to the statutory duties in the PD Act; added the Agency to the annual PD agency report; made clear that the PD Act does not apply to the Agency; and conformed Title 14 provisions for payment of GAL services to include the Agency. Section Four continued the same funding that was already authorized for the Agency. Finally, Section Five made the legislation effective immediately.