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Attorney Jaye Rancourt Speaks on Behalf of the ABA in Opposing a Rule Change in Child Neglect Cases

N.H. Supreme Court Hears Opposition to Rule Change in Child Neglect Cases

Yesterday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard from attorneys who urged the state Supreme Court to reject a proposal that would limit free legal counsel for impoverished parents accused of child abuse or neglect.

The proposal would require the appointed attorney for a parent alleged of abuse and/or neglect of his/her child to withdraw from a case following an initial dispositional hearing, unless there was a court order for continued representation.

Presently, indigent parents alleged to have neglected or abused their children are statutorily entitled to court appointed counsel. Prior to 2011, indigent parents were given access to counsel, but in 2011 lawmakers did away with the statute requiring that any parent accused of abusing or neglecting their child in a child protection case be appointed an attorney to represent them.

In July 2013, the statutory authority requiring court appointment of counsel for indigent parents was reinstated after a state Supreme Court ruling in which the justices found that parents have a constitutional right to counsel in some neglect and abuse cases.

Proponents of the new rule hope it will establish a middle ground. Others however feel that the new rule is violative of the statutory rights of indigent parents.

Shareholder and director of Brennan Lenehan,Jaye Rancourt, speaking on behalf of the Bar Association at yesterday's hearing, said: “Very often an attorney is a counselor, is a social worker, is a trusted adviser for a client. And if you remove the attorney after the disposition, you’re removing the role of that trusted adviser.”

Read more about the proposed rule change and yesterday's hearing here.