Very few lawyers have experience in the Juvenile Court System, a place where Constitutional rights and common legal protections don’t exist. The best criminal lawyer may be useless in Juvenile Court. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you will be assigned a Public Defender. No matter how good he is, he will be too overworked to give you much help, so you will have to do much of your own work.
A lawyer will need at least $700 and more likely about $1500 as a retainer to begin with. It would be nice if lawyers could take your case for free, but any lawyer who does that will soon be out of business because he will not be able to pay his overhead costs and the huge fees associated with filings, expert witnesses, etc. Nor will he be able to support his family.
Sometimes legal fees are paid by family members, which often means Grandma and Grandpa are cashing in their retirement. Connie Roska held garage sales, with the support of her neighborhood, to raise money for her very expensive lawsuit.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, a Public Defender will be assigned to you. Some Public Defenders are very good, but all of them are extremely overworked. If your lawyer needs to call expert witnesses on your behalf, you will still have to pay for them just as you would with a private lawyer. The State, of course, has unlimited money, some of it your own which you have given in taxes. The Legislature needs to fix this so that the accused can be defended in an amount equal to what the State spends.
We need more good lawyers, but an even better solution would be to have fewer cases to begin with. The system is out of control and it is up to the Legislature to make changes to prevent innocent people from getting entrapped and destroyed financially, to give poor people equal access to justice, and to save the taxpayers from the enormous amounts of money being spent in ways that are not helpful to families or society.
WHAT YOUR LAWYER WILL WANT TO KNOW
Date of event
Are drugs involved? Alcohol? Domestic violence? Dirty house?
Have you been formally charged with anything?
If your children were taken:
Was there a warrant?
Do you have a copy of it?
Was there an affidavit with the warrant? Do you have a copy of it?
(The affidavit says what the worker told the judge to get the warrant. If they come with a warrant, request a copy of the affidavit then; or go to the police department involved and ask for one.)
Where are children now?
When is the shelter hearing?
(If this is a medical case, you should go to all your children’s doctors right away and get medical records and letters of support. If the state is given custody in the shelter hearing, they will tell the doctors not to speak to or give information to the parents.)
If this is a case in progress:
Is there a Family Team Meeting scheduled?
Do you have a service plan? (Do not sign a service plan until an attorney has looked at it.)
Do you have a court order?
Who is your CPS investigator?
Who is your DCFS case worker?
Who is your Guardian ad litem?
Who is your Assistant Attorney General?
What court dates do you have?
Do you have your GRAMA reports? (If not, fill out application at local DCFS office; pick up in 2 weeks or have them sent. Do not write anything on the copies given to you; make photocopies to write your notes on.)