CONNECTICUT, April 8, 2014 — According to Massachusetts attorney Maureen Martowska, her son Matthew Martowska was going through a difficult custody case for several years when she noticed something irregular on guardian ad litem Barry Armata’s bills in 2012. Attorney Martowska could not understand why the Connecticut State Comptroller would purportedly cut a $988.12 check to Armata for his work on the case, when the family had been following court orders to pay Armata thousands of dollars out of their own pockets.
While Martowska does not rule out the possibility that Armata’s bill may have been a clerical error, she said the mistake raises serious questions about how GAL’s in the State of Connecticut are paid.
“The court indicated that Barry Armata agreed to charge rates akin to state rates—however that only meant he would bill us privately at state rates – when actually my son was indigent and entitled to have OCPD pay those fees,” says Martowska. “Did Barry double dip? He to date has not billed us at state rates and was told by the court that he would have to revise his billing 2 years retroactive to reflect state rates.”
If RB-494 passes into law as it currently is written, the measure would fix some of the problems posed by Connecticut’s unregulated multi-million dollar GAL industry. For the first time in Connecticut history, parents would be allowed to select their own GAL, there would be limits on how much a GAL could be paid, and it would put a sliding fee scale in place to determine fees bases on the parent’s income. The bill forbids courts from raiding children’s college savings accounts to pay GAL’s and mandates state rates for families receiving public assistance.
Currently, the bill is undergoing revisions in the House, where it must be voted on by Friday of this week.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTING PROBLEMS REQUIRE FINANCIALLY TRANSPARENT SOLUTIONS:
One revision the House may want to consider making to the bill would be to explicitly mandate that all invoices submitted by GAL’s to the State be subject to public disclosure. Here’s why.
According to their annual report, Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Public Defender subsidized 1,450 GAL cases in 2013, and they are concealing the administrative billing invoices pertaining to the vendors which would explain where their $64 million annual budget is being diverted. It appears that instead of protecting the public with transparency and honest services, the Public Defender is improperly protecting their own employee misconduct from disclosure.
Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Public Defender refuses to allow Connecticut father Paul Boyne to obtain legitimate copies of the invoices submitted to the State for reimbursement by attorney Susan Hamilton, the GAL appointed to his own family court case, even though OCPD had been paying her for two years to represent his children’s best interests. According to documents obtained from Boyne, for two years, Boyne battled with OCPD’s Chief Legal Counsel Deborah Sullivan to obtain them, and was repeatedly denied. Communications between Boyne and Sullivan show she made it so arduous and difficult to obtain his own case invoices that most OCPD clients would likely have been deterred and given up.
Last week, Sullivan relented. But the bills Sullivan supplied Boyne with was an invoice with details redacted. Boyne could not even see his own family court case docket number, where the GAL’s office was, the names of his own children, the dates of service, what work his GAL did. According to Sullivan, he’s not allowed to know which administrators are approving or processing his GAL’s invoices.
One item the invoice does show is a charge from GAL Susan Hamilton in November 2013 for services to Boyne’s son, Andrew. Andrew, however, had turned 18 in May 2013, six months before the charges were recorded.
As previously reported, State audits show OCPD has been plagued by irregular book keeping practices, missing funding, and excuses for not following protocols. Here’s what the State Auditor had to say about the matter in 2011:
“Expenditures made were not properly supported by a valid authorization and/or commitment documents. This could result in the funds not being available for payment. In addition, the agency was not in compliance with established policies”
In 2013, I filed a complaint against with the State’s Freedom of Information Commission in 2013 when OCPD denied me copies of invoices showing what and how the public office had paid various vendors who routinely appeared on problematic cases. Some of those vendors (among others) included Dr. Howard Krieger and Dr. Sidney Horowitz, and their practice, the Connecticut Resources Group.
CO-17 forms are accounting invoices issued by the Sec. of State for use by most State offices. Vendors submit the invoices to the accounts receivable department for reimbursement, and the information is then entered into CORE-CT, the State’s accounting system. There is nothing on the forms which indicate that they are protected from disclosure.
Currently, the family court vendors in question are under investigation by the CT Department of Public Health and the US Department of Justice for their professional conduct in Susan Skipp’s case. Horowitz was involved with the Martowska case, Colleen Kerwick’s case, and with the Boyne case.
In the Boyne case, serious questions arose as to the propriety of Horowitz’s billing practices, the nature of his business relationships with the judges themselves where he had communicated behind the scenes with judges, double billed and billed the State at rates nearly double what the legislature allocates for such professionals.
But the real problem, says Mrs. Martowska, is that there is no incentive to close these cases or protect children because then the billable hours to vendors will stop. Yet according to OCPD testimony before the FOI Commission, OCPD apparently does not provide client families with an opportunity to review or verify the CO-17 invoices submitted by State vendors (GAL’s, evaluators, etc.) appointed onto their cases, and as you can see in the Boyne case, these families are not allowed to have clean copies even if they ask for them. The Public Defender will not even disclose which administrators process or approve the payments, or provide copies of them.
Last fall, OCPD testified before the FOI hearing officer that they would not hand over the invoices, even if ordered to do so. OCPD attorney Deborah Del Pret Sullivan repeatedly testified that any parent could obtain full disclosure copies of of the invoices upon request. As you can see from Attorney Sullivan’s response to Boyne, Attorney Sullivan deliberately misled the FOI commission and the public on this matter.
“The cash flows associated with all judicial appointed family law practitioners should be public, even if not paid by the state,” says Connecticut father Mark Sargent, a former tax lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City. “Every time I’ve been asked to help craft legislation, I’ve included that transparency measure. But I don’t think we’re going get it in SB 494.”
Rather than cut the Public Defender another check for $64 million this year, Connecticut legislators should put laws in place that allow taxpayers to understand and see invoices first hand showing whether or not they are getting the best deal for their money, or whether the state’s most vulnerable families are being ripped off and/or used in scams subsidized by tax dollars.Click here for reuse options!
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