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Greenwood v. State Public Defender

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 16, 2017

NICOLE GREENWOOD, Appellee,
v.
STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Rose Ann Mefford, District Associate Judge.

         The public defender appeals the district court's decision ordering it to pay the court-appointed fees in a guardianship. REVERSED.

          Larry Johnson Jr., State Public Defender, and William L. Bushell, Assistant State Public Defender, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Nicole L. Greenwood, Ottumwa, appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          VOGEL, Presiding Judge.

         The State Public Defender (SPD) appeals the juvenile court's decision ordering the SPD to pay the court-appointed attorney fees of Nicole Greenwood, who was appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) in a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) case. Specifically, the SPD asserts the juvenile court incorrectly concluded the work Greenwood performed preparing guardianship paperwork was within the scope of her court-appointed work as the GAL in the CINA case. The SPD asserts it does not have statutory or administrative rule authority to pay Greenwood for the work she performed establishing the guardianship in probate court. Greenwood defends the juvenile court's decision. Unfortunately, the facts of this case demonstrate but one example of the broad spectrum of possible legal services undertaken by attorneys representing indigents in juvenile court. What an attorney needs to do for the client, or is ordered to do by the court, is not always work that is compensable under the Iowa Code. Because we agree the SPD is not authorized to pay for the work at issue, we reverse the juvenile court's decision.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Greenwood was appointed as GAL for three minor children in their combined CINA cases in December 2014. Eventually, the juvenile court determined a guardianship with the children's grandparents was in the children's best interests, and in February 2016, the juvenile court ordered Greenwood to prepare guardianship paperwork. Greenwood complied with the court's order, preparing and filing the necessary documents with the probate court. After the guardianship case was opened, the juvenile court transferred jurisdiction to the probate court and closed the CINA cases because the permanency goal of a guardianship with relative placement had been achieved.

         Thereafter, Greenwood submitted an invoice for her work as the GAL to the SPD. The SPD rejected 3.5 hours Greenwood spent preparing the guardianship paperwork. Greenwood filed an application for review of the claim denial with the juvenile court that had ordered her to complete the guardianship work, and after a hearing, the juvenile court granted Greenwood's request, ordering the SPD to pay for the 3.5 hours. In granting Greenwood's application, the juvenile court stated:

The Court finds that GAL Greenwood submitted a claim of $564.86 to the Office of the Public Defender for legal work done on behalf of the children in this case while the case was pending, including preparation of Guardianship paperwork to assist these children in achieving the permanency goal. On February 2, 2016, this Court ordered Greenwood to prepare the paperwork. Greenwood's bill was reasonable for the work done and Greenwood was representing indigent juveniles (Children in Need of Assistance) in a juvenile court proceeding, . . . pursuant to Juvenile Court Order. The juvenile cases were able to besuccessfully closed, with the permanency goal achieved, on June 20, 2016.
. . . .
The State Public Defender's denial of Greenwood's Fee Claim is overruled. The State Public Defender shall pay the unpaid portion of the claimant's compensation and costs incurred while representing ...

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