State Republican Senator Jeremy Hutchinson says appointed attorneys for indigent parents in child custody cases can’t afford expert witnesses, and are at a disadvantage to counter arguments made by the Department of Human Services.
Hutchinson also said he thinks it is a conflict of interest that attorneys representing parents and children in custody cases work under the same agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts.
"There is an inherent conflict in having what's often times antagonistic parties represented by individuals who work for the same entity," he said.
The Joint Performance Review Committee heard from defense attorneys and others Thursday about problems in the legal system when it comes to cases involving child custody rights.
The Arkansas Judiciary’s Rules of Professional Conduct states lawyers in the same firm should not represent opposing clients. Hutchinson said this is similar to the same agency. He said even when it is not a conflict, some parents perceive that it is.
A DHS training consultant told the committee Arkansas was ranked second in the nation for frequency of removing children from parents’ homes, during the last federal review of the system in 2008.