Prof. Jane Spinak's Work Instrumental in Defeat of Act at the ABA

Professor Jane M. Spinak's Work Instrumental in Defeat of Act at the ABA

Professor Jane M. Spinak’s Work Was Instrumental

By Erin St. John Kelly
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February 21, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Using Columbia Law Professor Jane M. Spinak’s published critique to mobilize opposition to the Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect and Custody Proceedings Act, a coalition of child advocacy organizations, law school clinics and academics successfully prevented it from reaching the floor at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles, California, last week.

The imprimatur of the ABA can influence states considering legislation in a particular area. The act could be rewritten and reappear at the August Midyear Meeting, but this was the second time this one has not made it to a vote.

According to Spinak, the Act substantially undermines client-directed counsel for children, seriously diminishes attorney-client confidentiality protections for children, and gives significant power to judges appointing counsel for children to determine the nature of the attorney-client relationship.

 “The overwhelming trend of the past 20 years is to develop a model of client-directed lawyers for children who are capable of understanding the limitations of their client but nevertheless maximize the client’s ability to participate in and direct the lawyer’s advocacy,” Spinak said. “The Act reverted to a ‘best interests’ model which is inconsistent with professional responsibility mandates and gives far too much power to lawyers to decide that is ‘best’ for their clients.”

The Children's Rights Litigation Committee of the ABA Section of Litigation organized a nation-wide campaign to reject the child representation act, which was proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee widely distributed Spinak’s article “Simon Says Take Three Steps Backwards: The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws Recommendations on Child Representation,” which was published in the Nevada Law Journal in 2006.

Spinak organized New York bar associations and child advocacy organizations in a letter writing campaign to the New York State ABA delegates urging them to reject the Act. She is currently working with the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, the ABA Center on Children and the Law and First Star, a national child advocacy organization, to draft alternative child representation standards for the ABA to consider.

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