Judge Faces Removal after Appointing Minors Counsel to Address Children’s Extracurricular Activities in Family Law Case

Judge Andrea Flint of Santa Clara County Superior Court serves as court liaison for attorneys acting as minors counsel in divorce and custody cases.

By Susan Bassi and Fred Johnson

An estimated 75% of people going through a divorce or custody case cannot afford an attorney. However, California law gives family court judges the power to assign an attorney to represent children during their parents’ divorce or custody disputes. Therefore, it is common to see parents representing themselves in a divorce, while the court assures their children are represented by an attorney in the same proceedings.

Attorneys assigned to represent children in a family law case are commonly referred to as minors counsel. Both judges and minors counsel are required to comply with a vague and ambiguous legal standard referred to as “best interests of the child.”

Public policy dictates it is in the best interest for children to have an attorney in a family law matter when the proceedings are highly contested and protracted. Or when there are allegations of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

California Rules of Court provide guidelines to appoint attorneys to represent children in family law cases.

How Attorneys Become Minors Counsel

Attorneys wishing to act as minors counsel in California are required to have training and education beyond that required to maintain a law license. Additionally, minors counsel is required to carry malpractice insurance.

While not all California counties assign minors counsel in family law cases, several have informal assignment procedures done on a case-by-case basis.

In Santa Clara County the court maintains a pool of attorneys who certify they have met the minimum requirements and are available for assignment as minors counsel. The pool, referred to as the “minors counsel panel,” operates through the local bar association.

Qualified minors counsel names posted on the Santa Clara County Superior Court website.

A representative from the court, typically a judge, acts as a liaison between the court and the minors counsel panel. Judge Andrea Flint served as the court liaison for the minors counsel panel in 2023.

Members from the Santa Clara minors counsel panel complained to Judge Flint about an appearance that minors counsel assignments are not made in a fair or objective manner.

Public Records show Santa Clara County Superior Court Judges Appoint 20- 50 Attorneys as minors counsel each month.

Minors counsel assignments, especially in middle class and high asset cases, can be quite lucrative. According to public records produced by the court, attorneys acting as minors counsel over the past decade earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from their minors counsel assignments in addition to income they earned from private clients.

Top Minors Counsel Billings in Santa Clara County through 2023

Paying Minors Counsel Bills

Once assigned in a divorce or custody case in Santa Clara County, taxpayers foot the bill for minors counsel fees when parents are too poor to pay court costs. Attorneys acting as minors counsel in these cases may charge taxpayers only $100 per hour for their legal services.

In stark contrast, attorneys assigned to middle class and high asset divorce cases may charge parents $350 to $800 per hour for similar legal services.

Once assigned in a case, an attorney acting as minors counsel may bill for reading emails, drafting, motions, and serving court documents. Such practices quickly lead to parents facing hefty legal bills that have little to do with providing legal services for their children.

Nonpayment to a minors counsel in violation of a judge’s order could result in a parent being subject to contempt proceedings, arrest, or imprisonment. Unpaid minors counsel bills can also subject a parent to wage garnishment, or liens on a residence.

Minors Counsel Sue Saign Billing Sample

Judge Appoints Minors Counsel for Extracurricular Activities

In late 2023, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Andrea Flint, who acts as a liaison to the county’s minors counsel panel, appointed Sue Saign as minors counsel in a divorce case. Flint’s order indicates Saign was appointed for purposes of addressing the “extracurricular” activities of three minor children.

According to the court file, Saign billed parents’ $450 per hour for her legal services, and $200 per hour for work done by her paralegal.

Court records in the case show no history of domestic violence, or abuse. Nor had the litigation been protracted.

While the parents at the center of the case involving Saign’s assignment as minors counsel had been formally divorced, their attorneys kept bringing them back to court for mundane custody disputes.

Instead of working to descale the conflict in the case, or compelling the attorneys to provide meaningful solutions, Judge Flint assigned minors counsel Sue Saign to the case. The assignment added to the conflict and cost of the litigation.

In less than three months, Saign billed parents $13,000 for her services as minors counsel.

Judge Flint’s decision to appoint Saign at a rate of $450/hour to address the extracurricular activities of children whose parents are involved in a divorce raises serious questions about the willingness of judges to waste public and private resources.

Judge Andrea Flint appointed minors counsel to address extracurricular activities of the minor child.

Cashing in on Cozy Conflicts of Interest

As a court liaison to the minors counsel panel of attorneys, Judge Flint repeatedly failed to disclose her social, professional, and financial relationships with lawyers she assigns as minors counsel in divorce and custody cases.

The Vanguard previously reported that Santa Clara County does not cap fees charged by minors counsel. Further, minors counsel appointments often remain in place for years, costing families thousands of dollars.

Though Sue Saign is not among the minors counsel’s highest billers, court files indicate she stands to earn $80,000 per year from a single minors counsel appointment. If she remained in the case until the youngest child turned eighteen, Saign could earn over $1.4 million in just one case.

Kicking a Judge Off the Case

Saign’s recent appointment as minors counsel was made over the objection of a parent. It was the appointment of Saign that prompted calls for Judge Flint to remove herself from the case. When she did not, a formal disqualification statement was served, seeking to have Judge Flint legally removed from the divorce case.

In responding to a request to disqualify (leave the case), Judge Flint’s answer failed to acknowledge conflicts of interest she is known to have related to the local bar association and through her membership in the BBMP, the secreted Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee, previously reported on by the Vanguard.

Judge Andrea Flint responds to allegations she acted with bias in a divorce case after she appointed minors counsel Sue Saign.

Flint’s omissions raise further concerns about transparency and impartiality within the California family court system. It also raises questions about the influence the BBMP continues to have on the judiciary and legal outcomes in Santa Clara County.

Judge Flint’s disqualification proceeding is expected to be heard by a judge assigned by the state’s Judicial Council. The Vanguard will continue to follow the case.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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