What is Tulsa Lawyers for Children?
Tulsa Lawyers for Children -- "TLC" -- is an Oklahoma not-for-profit corporation formed to provide volunteer pro bono legal representation for abused, abandoned and neglected children in the custody of the Department of Human Services ("DHS"). IRS has approved TLC as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
Who formed TLC?
TLC was formed through the efforts of the Tulsa County Bar Association and its committee on Children and the Law.
What does TLC do?
TLC recruits, trains and helps coordinate volunteer lawyers to represent children in so-called "deprived" cases in the Juvenile Division of Tulsa County District Court. These are children under the age of 18 who are in DHS custody because of alleged abandonment or neglect by their parents.
Why are lawyers needed for this?
Oklahoma law requires that children in deprived cases have legal representation before the courts. Currently, the Public Defender's office in Tulsa County is appointed to represent most of these children. For six years, attorneys, primarily from the law firm of Conner & Winters, were appointed to represent the children when the Public Defender's office was "conflicted out" of the representation (usually because it represented or had represented the child's parents in matters). It is evident that the need still greatly exceeds the available resources. There are currently four public defenders representing most of these children now. Each has a caseload of approximately 300 cases, which may involve many more times that number of children.
What does a child's lawyer in a deprived case do?
A child's lawyer in a deprived case speaks for the client before the Court. It's the same thing as done by lawyers for other clients. This involves meeting with the client, attending court hearings and meetings concerning the case with DHS personnel, the parents' attorneys and other involved parties and, if the case reaches that point, representing the child in jury and nor-jury trials determining the parents' rights.
I don't usually do this kind of legal work. Now can I gain the needed competence?
Children need and deserve the same quality of representation that other clients receive. To ensure that TLC lawyers will provide high quality legal services,
TLC will offer free comprehensive training to volunteer lawyers. You will learn the substantive law and the special procedure, which govern deprived cases. You will also have an opportunity to talk with lawyers currently representing children in deprived cases, as well as DHS personnel, experts in the field of child abuse and representatives of the District Attorney's office, which prosecutes these cases. The TLC training will enable you to represent these children with competence and professionalism.
How much of a time commitment does this entail?
§ TLC volunteer lawyers are asked to accept one case appointment at a time.
§ The case might involve more than one child in a family, however. Cases
generally continue for a year or more and sometimes go on for several years.
§ The frequency of Court hearings on a case varies, but generally Court appearances are required every three to six months. Prior to each Court appearance you are required by statute to meet with your client.
§ Court appearances are generally fairly informal and involve a dialog among the judge in the case, the parents' attorneys, DHS, the assistant District Attorney on the case and the child's attorney.
§ Jury and non-jury trials (which take place in relatively few cases) rarely last for more than two clays, but in some complex cases may take as much as a full week.
§ There are also various types of meetings involving the case which you will need to attend, but these are infrequent and will not take significant amounts of additional time,
Are there any special requirements for TLC Volunteer lawyers? Yes, Volunteer lawyers must:
§ Be members in good standing of the Oklahoma Bar Association;
§ Be admitted to practice for three years or have comparable experience or training;
§ Complete the TLC training program or be otherwise knowledgeable in relevant law;
§ Carry malpractice insurance or be eligible to be covered under the TLC umbrella policy (available only to attorneys, such as government, corporate in-house and retired attorneys, who are not in private practice and do not have malpractice coverage in their employment).
When will the TLC training be offered?
Initial training for volunteer lawyers and seminars designed to update information and sharpen skills will be offered from time to time. Trainings for groups can also be arranged to accommodate individual schedules.