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In re Guardianship of A.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 18, 2018

IN RE THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF A.S. and G.S., ANITA PORTER and ROBERT SLAVISH, Appellants.

          Certiorari to the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Henry W. Latham II, Judge.

         Former guardians appeal from an order of sanctions against them.

          Ciara L. Vesey of Law Office of Ciara L. Vesey P.L.L.C., Davenport, for appellants.

          Jennifer M. Triner Olsen of Olsen Law Office, Davenport, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., McDonald, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Anita Shae Porter and Robert Slavish petition for writ of certiorari[1] from an order of sanctions against them for misleading the court regarding a guardianship over two children. They contend the district court erred in hearing an untimely motion for sanctions, acted beyond its authority and abused its discretion in granting sanctions, and exhibited unlawful bias against them. We find the district court acted within its authority and without any abuse of discretion or evidence of bias, and we affirm the district court order in every respect.

         I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         The following facts are supported by substantial evidence in the record[2]: Anita Shae Porter worked as a paralegal for attorney Maria Pauly from 2014 to 2017. Porter's duties included preparing pleadings, answering telephones, and filing documents at Pauly's direction over the Iowa Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). Porter had access to and regularly used Pauly's EDMS login and password to carry out her duties.

         In September 2015, Porter used Pauly's EDMS information to file documents to obtain a guardianship for herself and her ex-husband, Robert Slavish, over the two children[3] of her friend, April Sanders. Sanders consented in writing to a voluntary guardianship. In the order appointing legal guardians, which Porter drafted and proposed and which listed Pauly as her legal representative, the court found, "(April Sanders) is the biological mother of both children. Whereabouts of putative fathers is unknown." The putative father of the two children is Jeffrey Shadden.[4] At the time the guardianship was established, he was living with Sanders in Moline, Illinois. He had occasional contact with Porter and Slavish. Porter and Slavish knew Shadden was a possible father of the children[5] and knew his whereabouts. They neither gave notice of the guardianship to Shadden, as required under Iowa Code section 633.553(2)(b)(1) (2015), nor sought appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent the children, as required under Iowa Code section 633.561(1)(b).

         In a January 2017 criminal matter, Shadden appeared in district court before Judge Latham in Scott County. In the course of those proceedings, it emerged that Shadden found out his children were living with Porter and Slavish under a legal guardianship in 2016, but he had not consented to or been served with notice at the time it was created. The court, seeking to determine whether the guardianship was valid, set a hearing in probate for February 14. In its order, the court issued a summons to the guardians' attorney of record, Pauly, to appear and explain whether Shadden had received proper notice.

         The morning after she received the order setting hearing, Pauly went to the courthouse and approached Judge Latham to determine the basis of the summons; admittedly this was outside the presence of Porter, Slavish, Sanders, and Shadden. She looked at the documents in the guardianship court file submitted through EDMS under her name but did not recognize them.[6] The day after the summons, Chief Judge Marlita A. Greve specially assigned the guardianship case to Judge Latham. A few days later, Porter and Slavish filed a motion to dismiss the guardianship.

         On February 14, Porter, Slavish, and Shadden appeared for the hearing scheduled by Judge Latham in the guardianship. Porter and Slavish were represented by new counsel. The court terminated the guardianship effective immediately, but requested briefs on whether the court had authority to award attorney fees.

         On March 26, Shadden filed a motion for sanctions against Porter and Slavish. At the hearing in May, Pauly testified she was not aware Porter had been appointed a legal guardian to any minor children until she received the January summons from Judge Latham. She recalled some general questions Porter had asked her by text message about guardianships but nothing specific to Sanders, Shadden, or these children. She had not advised Porter on the guardianship and had not drafted the filings that contained her name. She had no knowledge of the guardianship and had never even represented a party in a guardianship before. She testified, "I don't do guardianships."

         Porter and Shadden also testified. Porter initially claimed she did not know who the putative fathers were, but later admitted she knew Shadden might be the children's father. She also testified that, based on the text messages, she believed Pauly was her attorney in the guardianship. Shadden testified although Porter and Slavish let him see his children on a regular basis, they completely controlled his access to them. Shadden had been ordered to complete anger management and domestic violence classes for unrelated criminal charges but Porter falsely told him he could not have custody of his children until he had completed them. Shadden did not challenge Porter believing she had superior legal knowledge as a paralegal.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, ruling from the bench, the court stated, "I do not find the testimony of . . . Porter credible whatsoever." Recounting some of Porter's testimony, the court found Porter "made a falsehood upon the court." Specifically, the court pointed to Porter's testimony that she knew Shadden might be the children's father and where he lived but represented to the court that the putative fathers' whereabouts were unknown. The court also pointed to Porter's admission she drafted and filed the documents for the guardianship and submitted them under Pauly's name. After quoting from ...


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