Appellate Win for CVLS!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Contentious guardianship case goes the distance

Gregory P. Hawver, McGuire Woods LLP

Andre was thirteen years old and had been raised by his aunt and uncle since he could remember. Although originally an informal arrangement between aunt, uncle, and Andre’s mother, the aunt and uncle needed to establish a legal relationship with Andre to better care for him. They petitioned for legal guardianship. When Andre’s mother appeared in court and objected, CVLS was appointed as Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to advocate for Andre’s best interests.

CVLS volunteer Greg Hawver stepped up to the plate to be Andre’s GAL. Greg worked tirelessly to complete his investigation and to serve Andre’s best interests. On his recommendation, the Court entered guardianship over the mother’s objection. Months later, the mother petitioned to discharge the guardianship. Although Greg wanted to continue to work with the family, his own work and family demands did not allow him to continue on the case full-time. Greg turned to CVLS staff with questions on how to proceed. CVLS is made up of thousands of volunteers supported by staff attorneys who are able to walk hand in hand through all CVLS cases. CVLS staff is ready and able to step in during situations like these. Minor GAL staff attorney, Debi Filipovich, began working on the case with Greg. As it became more and more litigious, Debi and Greg tried to diffuse the situation. Soon it was clear that a trial was inevitable and the GALs saw the continued litigation taking a toll on Andre. Continuing to believe it was in Andre’s best interests to stay with his Aunt and Uncle, Debi and Greg advocated for Andre to remain with them, filing Motions in Limine and GAL reports when necessary. At trial, Greg and Debi clarified issues for the court, objected where necessary, and argued for Andre’s position. At the close of the mother’s case, the GALs moved for a directed verdict noting that the mother had not met her burden. The Court agreed and the dust began to settle.

Debi Filipovich, CVLS

All seemed calm until CVLS received a notice of an expedited appeal. The appeal challenged both the finding that the mother had not met her burden and the GALs authority to act throughout the case. Debi handled the appeal with its shortened deadlines, toiling into the night and over weekends to prepare the best possible brief.

Success! The Appellate Court sided with the trial court on all issues, finding that the appellate court did not impede upon the GALs authority to act. It also clarified which minor guardianship laws applied. There was only one problem; the appellate court’s opinion was not binding precedent.

Minor guardianship case law is limited because few cases are appealed, let alone published. CVLS represents hundreds of children each year in Cook County as court-appointed Guardian ad Litem. Over the past two years alone, CVLS has been appointed as GAL for 552 children in 379 Probate guardianship cases. Because we knew that Andre’s situation is common and that courts would benefit from guidance with these types of cases, it was important that this order be published. So, Debi prepared and filed a Motion to Publish. Another success! The Appellate court withdrew its Rule 23 designation and published its Decision. This case started with one amazing volunteer who stepped up to represent a young boy and ended with an Appellate case that will guide courts and help other children across Illinois!