Conroe, October 10 – Sources inside Advocates for Families Crisis (AFC), the nonprofit law firm under a million dollar contract with Montgomery County to provide legal services in Child Protective Services parental termination cases, continues to face a crisis of its own, as the Board of Directors of the troubled group terminated former Assistant County Attorney John Lockwood as Program Director after only four days on the job. AFC Board member and Secretary Leanne Hill confirmed Lockwood’s termination as Program Director on Friday, October 6, although she noted that Lockwood hoped to work as a contract attorney for AFC.
County Attorney J.D. Lambright will meet with the Commissioners Court in executive session on Tuesday, October 10, 2017, to discuss whether to continue the County’s contractual relationship with AFC.
Former Program Director Stephanie Hall, who also had previously served on AFC’s Board of Directors, has given 30 days’ notice of termination of her relationship with the County vendor. Hall has expressed serious reservations concerning AFC’s attorney appointments and related operational issues. Please see “Renowned Child Welfare Attorney Hall Distances Herself From Scofflaw Vendor AFC, as Commissioners Court Heads into Tuesday Executive Session to Discuss Contract,” The Golden Hammer, October 6, 2017.
Until August 28, 2017, Lockwood, a fourteenth year licensed attorney, was one of the two CPS attorneys working for County Attorney Lambright. On August 14, 2017, however, Lockwood gave two-week’s notice that he was quitting his job. Lockwood did not reveal his future employment plans but the employees in the County Attorney’s Office felt that Lockwood left the Office where he’d worked for six-and-a-half years on fairly good terms. Lockwood was directly responsible for between 150 to 200 of the CPS cases.
To the shock of Lambright, who declined to provide an interview for this story, and other officials in the County Attorney’s Office, Lockwood appeared in the CPS Court on October 2 around 9 a.m. and introduced himself as the new Program Director of AFC! Under the contract between Montgomery County and AFC, a copy of which The Golden Hammer obtained by Open Records Act request, and under the County’s Request for Proposal which the County and AFC incorporated into the current contract, dated February 13, 2016, the Program Director oversees and manages all of the attorneys who serve under the MAC program and appoints each attorney for each case as well.
As a result of Lockwood’s appearance as the Program Director supervising the attorneys in AFC, the County Attorney’s Office began filing motions to disqualify AFC attorneys as counsel in CPS parental termination cases last week. Three of the motions to disqualify are set for hearing on Wednesday, October 11, the day after the Commissioners Court meeting.
This newspaper reported the story on October 5, 2017: “Million Dollar Crisis Besmirches County Vendor.” In addition to numerous operational problems, the ethics of the Lockwood hire, questions about attorney appointments by AFC in child welfare cases, individuals within the County Attorney’s Office as well as two different County Commissioner’s offices have expressed concerns about the gigantic price of the AFC contract ($989,240 per year, plus providing a free office for the attorney organization in the James Keeshan County Building), although they’ve requested anonymity at least prior to the Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting.
Hall told The Golden Hammer that she supports at least a temporary return to the attorney “wheel system” under which judges appointed attorneys under a random selection method in these types of cases from a group of practitioners whom the Board of Judges had previously determined were qualified. The individual courts would then approve the fees for that attorney in that case. While the process caused some payments to attorneys to be a bit slower than they might have wished, the County’s Consolidated Annual Financial Reports indicate that the County is now spending substantially more money for attorneys under the annual-fixed-price AFC contract than under the “wheel system.”