The Elkins Family Law Task Force has released its response to public comment on its Draft Recommendations.
The Task Force was appointed in May 2008 to conduct a comprehensive review of family law proceedings and recommend to the Judicial Council of California proposals that will increase access to justice, ensure due process, and provide for more effective and consistent court rules, policies, and procedures.
The Task Force has held 12 in-person hearings. At the February meetings in San Francisco, the Task Force reviewed and considered public comments on the Draft Recommendations. ALDAP participated in the hearings on October 27, 2009 in Los Angeles and February 23, 2010 in San Francisco. On December 3, 2009, ALDAP submitted its comments on the Task Force's Draft Recommendations which were issued on October 1, 2009.
The Elkins Family Law Task Force's Final Recommendations will be presented at the April 23, 2010 meeting of the Judicial Council in San Francisco. The meeting agenda includes the committee's responses to each written comment and includes reference to oral testimonies made before the committee by the public.
A large percentage of the responses by the committee concerning the legal document assistant profession involve the committee's concerns surrounding lack of consumer protections. ALDAP agrees that the protections presently afforded under Business & Professions Code section 6400 et seq. lack enforcement, particularly in light of budgetary restrictions in most counties. The fundamental principle underlying the formation of ALDAP and its programs was, and still remains, a focus on consumer protections and professional integrity.
ALDAP agrees that there is more work to be accomplished within our profession before court administrators will accept LDAs as a viable resource. Much of the testimony concerning LDAs was not beneficial to our profession and, in fact, created cause for concern. Merely publishing a directory of LDAs will not cure the issues inherent in our profession and does not afford consumer protections. It is clear the committee agrees and finds the requests for such a directory to be premature.
The Task Force responded to ALDAP's comments as follows:
- ALDAP lobbied the commission for a placard notice stating that document preparers must be bonded and registered pursuant to 6400 which could have included a link to ALDAP's online directory of all California Legal Document Assistants. ALDAP disagrees with the committee that a directory as a resource could be inappropriate, and insists that signage of this nature is very much needed.
- The Task Force agrees with ALDAP that AB 590 will expand self-help services. Their response to our comments does not mention that LDA services can also help expand self-help programs and services.
- The Task Force repeatedly stated that, while it was "mindful" of the benefits that many LDAs provide to unrepresented litigants, it does not believe a recommendation that the court refer services via a LDA directory is appropriate in light of the current lack of enforcement of consumer protections. The committee frequently distinguished such a directory or LDA referral program from Lawyer Referral Services, which must be certified and, therefore, offer "extensive consumer protections."
- The Task Force agrees with ALDAP that LDAs enjoy a beneficial relationship involving limited scope respresentation (LSR) and adds that these relationships do afford consumer protections as attorneys are responsible for accuracy of work product, and that attorneys may become members of a certified lawyer referral service.
- The Task Force disagrees with ALDAP that LDAs should receive copies of notices or court correspondence relative to cases inasmuch as LDAs do not represent consumers. The Task Force suggests that LDAs address this issue with their clients to ensure that clients forward notices and correspondence received from the court to the LDA.
- The Task Force believes that it is important that LDAs review court order procedures with clients and requests LDAs consider not charging for orders after hearing, as the court regularly refers self representing litigants to the self-help clinic for the same services at no cost.
- The Task Force agrees with ALDAP's recommendation that court advocates should be appointed on behalf of children in family law matters.
- The Task Force agrees with ALDAP that educational resources should be provided to self-representing litigants regarding a variety of options concerning their cases including the role of LDAs. (emphasis added)
- The Task Force partially agrees with ALDAP that implementation of a universal form providing for disclosure of non-attorney assistance, after review as to scope, should be considered for implementation.
- The Task Force agrees with ALDAP's recommendation for consideration of uniform adoption of processes concerning rejected filings and self-representing clients who utilize the services of an LDA.
- Finally, the committee commends ALDAP and its members for providing resources and tools to self-representing litigants so they may successfully navigate the court system.
The only issue ALDAP believes outstanding concerns the placement of placards containing LDA statutory regulations within the courthouse. ALDAP believes this approach would resolve a large percentage of the committee's concerns regarding consumer protections, as it is clear that educating consumers is paramount. Consumer education creates a self protection. Combining placard placement with mandatory filing of non-attorney disclosures would result in consumer protections right at the source - the clerk's office.
ALDAP agrees 100% with the committee's remarks concerning consumer protections. It has long been ALDAP's goal to institute stricter consumer protections. We shall continue with our campaign for enforcement of existing consumer protections while further defining professional integrity. For the past 10 years others have tried to sweep noncompliance under the rug in an effort to yield harvest, yet the fruit of those (non) efforts lies upon the ground spoiled and reeking of the stench of rogues. In the past three years ALDAP has established itself as the leader in consumer protections and professional integrity. Our work is not yet done.