Image: Renowned child welfare attorney Stephanie J. Hall (center) with two friends.
Conroe, October 6 – Renowned child welfare attorney Stephanie J. Hall issued a statement to The Golden Hammer this afternoon in which she distanced herself from Advocates for Families in Crisis (AFC), the County vendor which finds itself in an institutional crisis as a result of spending issues, the hiring of a Program Director on October 2 who has substantial conflicts of interest, and relationships with certain attorneys. Hall is the former Program Director of AFC and has provided legal services to children involved in parental termination proceedings and families members involved in such proceedings through the County vendor since its inception.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court has included an executive session item for a meeting with County Attorney J.D. Lambright:
“Consultation with attorney regarding the contract with Children’s Protective Services Managed Assigned Counsel (CPMAC).”
That cryptic agenda item is a direct reference to AFC’s contract with Montgomery County. This newspaper, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, did an investigative article on AFC two days ago. Please see “Million Dollar Crisis Besmirches County Vendor AFC,” The Golden Hammer, October 5, 2017.
AFC suffers from at least three problems, as discussed in the article two days ago:
– AFC just hired as its new Program Director John Lockwood, who just left the County Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor in the same child welfare cases where AFC’s attorneys are adverse to the State of Texas. Since Lockwood is the managing attorney overseeing the work of AFC’s attorneys both on its organizational chart and in the written documentation between Montgomery County’s government and AFC, the County Attorney’s Office has begun to file motions to disqualify all of AFC’s attorneys from contested parental termination cases where Lockwood had previously served as a prosecutor. So far, the County Attorney has filed approximately ten (10) motions to disqualify in ten legal proceedings with the promise that dozens more are to follow. A number of attorneys affiliated with AFC have confirmed with The Golden Hammer that they too have serious concerns that AFC, Lockwood, and all of AFC’s attorneys stand in potential or actual breach of the State Bar ethics rules contained within the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, as a result of the Lockwood conflicts of interest.
– AFC has utilized the services of attorneys whose background and record certain attorneys within AFC and others outside of the County vendor have called into question.
– The expense of AFC seems substantially higher than the previous system of judicial appointments and reviews of the fees of individual attorneys.
Hall’s statement in its entirety follows:
“I was AFC program director for approximately 1 ½ years until I was notified about two weeks ago that AFC was hiring a new program director. I had no knowledge of AFC’s plans to hire a new program director, and even at that time, I assumed the new program director would not start until November 1, 2017.
“When I started as program director approximately 1 ½ years ago, I had only a short period of time where I kept the appointment list. That job duty was soon taken over by someone else chosen by AFC. I was very vocal and adamant that a certain attorney not be placed on the appointment list because I believed it was not in line with the contract AFC had with the county. I was told that the board approved the attorney be added to the appointment list. I never personally added this attorney to the appointment list wherein appointments were made. The attorney’s name showed up on the list but I had nothing to do with that decision and found there was nothing I could do to change the decision that AFC made regarding this issue. As program director I was kept in the dark as to what was going on with the hiring of contract attorneys as well as other things affecting AFC. I hope AFC finds a way to fix these matters as the attorneys serve an important purpose in this county.”
AFC has a $989,240 service contract with the County that requires 60 days’ notice for termination. AFC also has a use agreement for free use of an office on the second floor of the James Keeshan Administration Building in Suite 217 – usually a locked door – next to the Child Protective Services Courtroom. The free use agreement only requires 30 days’ notice for termination.