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May 17, 2006

Maryland Legislation 2006—House Bill 700: Family Law—Court-Appointed Lawyer for Child—Immunity from Civil Liability

Sponsors:
Delegates Dumais and Smigiel

Summary:
H.B. 700 and companion bill S.B. 664 passed after amendments that satisfied our objections.

House Bill 700, as introduced, would have allowed judges to interfere with families by appointing lawyers for children from healthy, intact families in virtually any situation, excused those lawyers from malpractice, and forced the parents to pay the bill. HSLDA communicated these concerns to the sponsor. She defended her bill, and did not indicate any willingness to make the needed changes. HSLDA sent an e-lert to families asking them to call members of the House Judiciary Committee. In response, the committee proposed amendments that addressed all three concerns. The House of Representatives approved the amendments, then passed the bill. The Senate subsequently passed the bill, and on May 16, Governor Ehrlich signed it. Senate Bill 664 is the companion bill to H.B. 700.

Status:

2/06/2006 (House): First Reading House Judiciary Committee.
2/23/2006 (House): Judiciary Committee Hearing at 1 p.m. Bill has not yet been reported out of the committee.
3/22/2006 (House): Favorable with amendments report adopted
3/22/2006 (House): Second reading passed with amendments
3/24/2006 (House): Third reading passed (125-12)
3/25/2006 (House): Favorable with amendments report by Judiciary
3/25/2006 (Senate): First reading Judicial Proceedings
4/03/2006 (Senate): Favorable report adopted
4/03/2006 (Senate): Second reading passed
4/04/2006 (House): Returned passed
4/04/2006 (Senate): Third reading passed (37-10)
4/06/2006 (Senate): Favorable report by Judicial Proceedings
5/16/2006 Signed by Governor

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose.

Action Requested:
No more action is necessary.

Background:
Ordinarily, parents have the right to speak on behalf of their children. Only in unusual situations, such as disputes over custody, visitation and child support, can a judge appoint a lawyer to represent the child.

House Bill 700, however, changes all of this. A court could give strangers the right to speak on behalf of your children by giving judges the authority to appoint a lawyer for a child in any situation, as long as the judge is "concerned about the welfare" of a child. The bill does not define "concerned" or give any objective standards. It leaves the door open for judges to interpret it as they please, with unpredictable consequences.

Another major problem is that these lawyers will be exempt from malpractice and parents will be forced to pay their fees.

 Other Resources

May-22-2006—Maryland—Flaws Repaired in Child Attorney Bill

Bill Text   (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Bill History