Clinic Wins Child Order of Protection Fee Case

Civil Justice Clinic students, faculty, and staff have won a major victory in the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District for those seeking a child order of protection.

Referring to protecting domestic violence victims as “a state interest of utmost importance,” the appellate court determined that a petitioner for a child order of protection may not be charged for guardian ad litem fees or other necessary costs of litigation. With regard to a secondary issue, the court held that petitioners are exempt from the appellate court docketing fee, if they choose to appeal.

“This case is an important victory for victims of domestic violence and all parents seeking to protect their children from physical and sexual abuse,” noted Clinic Attorney Brendan Roediger, who argued the case, In the interest of G.F., S.F., et al.

The appellate decision vindicated the persuasive argument presented to the trial court by Professor Katherine Goldwasser and largely adopted the reasoning put forth in the clinic’s brief drafted by clinic student Ann Bindu Thomas with the assistance of Professors Goldwasser, Kim Norwood, and C.J. Larkin. Judge Mooney of the Eastern District described the appellate brief as a great example for the other attorneys present at the oral argument docket.

The clinic was representing a woman seeking an order of protection to safeguard her five, minor children from their father. The order of protection was granted, and the court initially ordered the mother to pay half of the guardian ad litem fees. In his argument, Roediger strove to make the issues come alive to the panel, as he successfully illustrated to the court the prudential, practical, and legal reasons it should rule in favor of domestic violence petitioners.

The clinic argued specifically that the Child Protection Orders Act exempts petitioners from all "court costs," and that the legislature had already defined "court costs" as including any costs necessary to litigation for services provided by outside individuals or agencies. Additionally, the clinic focused on the importance of encouraging parents to act to protect their children and not placing economic impediments to that protection.

Roediger added that the court’s January 13 opinion notes that Missouri accepts federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) aid, and that this aid is contingent on the removal of these impediments.

Law students Jessica Stoney, Bryan Boyle, Amanda Mullaney, and Arian Nevin also worked on the case.