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Lawyers Want Tax Money
December 26, 2007 permalink
Two lawyers, Gregory and Byron Mills, are specializing in suing the state of Nevada on behalf of dead and lost foster children. It looks promising, but it turns out all they are doing is lining up to take tax money, and force the legislature to appropriate more of it. Parents get short shrift in their view, "these people did things to have their children taken away in the first place". Even purported reformers, such as the lawyers in this case and Marcia Lowry of Children's Rights Inc soon join the lineup of claimants on the public treasury. Family integrity cannot be restored through litigation.
Firm takes up cause of victimized kids in foster care
Sometimes the growth of a practice comes in unexpected and even unpleasant forms.
Attorneys Gregory and Byron Mills had a fairly quiet family law practice in the heart of downtown Las Vegas for the last few years, handling a variety of low-profile matters.
But the disappearance last year of one foster child and the death of another launched the brothers into a major new practice area: Fighting for compensation for foster children abused while under the care of the Nevada Child and Family Services Division and left without treatment by the state's foster system.
"The system has to change, and so far the only way we can see to do it is lawsuits. Unfortunately it's the only way," Byron Mills said. "There's no funding to help kids abused in the system, and it's been going on for years. They're not getting the protection and the counseling they deserve after something like that happens. In many cases it's simply been covered up."
Their law firm, Mills & Mills, has five active cases against the state, is working on several more and anticipates a large influx of cases as word gets out about what it is doing. The four-attorney firm has spent many man-hours researching and preparing its first cases, one involving the disappearance of Everlyse Cabrera and the other, the death of a baby boy.
The firm can't afford to do these cases pro bono because of its size and the amount of time the cases will take to prepare. Gregory Mills has already spent months preparing the cases the firm has, and legal legwork could last for years.
If it succeeds in the end, the firm stands to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from these cases over the next several years. And right now it is the only law firm in town aggressively seeking out abuse victims in the foster care system, preparing advertisements and public information campaigns.
Gregory Mills (who prefers to go by the nickname Gregor) is leading the firm's efforts, representing the biological parents and missing or deceased children. He is seeking restitution as well as additional information about the care that the children received.
Other cases at this point involve children who have been sexually or physically abused at the hands of foster parents or foster siblings and have not received counseling and treatment.
The firm's initial aim is to get the state to pay compensation up front for children abused in the system.
"We can't just ask for the court to give these kids counseling at this point," Byron Mills said. "The family juvenile court already is tasked with getting them counseling, and it isn't. The money from these lawsuits will go into court-monitored and controlled accounts to pay for counseling until the kids are 18. At that point anything that's left over will go directly to the kid."
The idea is for the firm to be a resource for these children since they have nowhere else to turn.
"The sad part is these kids and their parents don't know who they could report it to," Mills said. "I mean, you can't call (the children's service division) on itself. And these kids are not getting the help they need."
The parents will not be able to exploit the situation because they won't have access to these funds except in cases where the child has died, he said.
"If the parents know their kids have been abused or are being abused they can contact us. But they don't stand to gain from it," Mills said. "Remember these people did things to have their children taken away in the first place. So we're very mindful of that."
The firm's secondary aim is to see the department reformed, fully funded and children protected from future abuse.
Ideally, foster care caseworkers have about 20 kids to evaluate, Mills said. In Nevada, funding for the program is so inadequate that one caseworker may be working with 50 or more children, according to media accounts. These caseworkers are supposed to meet these children in person at least once a month, but there simply isn't enough time. They are lucky to see kids once every other month, Byron Mills said.
"It makes it impossible for them to do their jobs," he said.
If a caseworker cannot see the child, she has no way of knowing if abuse is taking place or likely to occur. And the lack of qualified foster homes has led to children being placed in homes that have not been properly evaluated.
"While doing these types of cases we realized that while the foster system is quick to take kids away from their parents, they're not so good at protecting them once the kids are in foster care," Byron Mills said. "People within the foster system have asked us for help. They have a huge amount of cases and not even close to enough caseworkers and nowhere near enough money to run the program and protect the kids."
The Mills brothers have supported legislative lobbying efforts in the last session, although they haven't done any direct lobbying themselves. Gov. Jim Gibbons has pledged to leave the agency's budget intact while many other agencies face budget cuts in the latest round of belt-tightening. And the Mills brothers hope that something will occur in the 2009 Legislature to bring additional funding to the program.
In the meantime, they plan to use the only means they have of persuading lawmakers that fully funding foster care programs is in the state's best interest.
"Just like a large corporation, until it hurts them in the wallet, they're not gong to do anything," Mills said. "It's our goal to hit them so hard and so repeatedly that they're forced to deal with the problem and increase the funding. We hope that in the future we don't have to do this anymore because the problem won't exist."
At the same time, the brothers are urging their colleagues in the legal profession and the business community to get more involved in the issue. They are encouraging lawyers and businesspeople to lobby legislators and to participate in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which provides volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children going through the foster care system.
The Mills are also spreading the word about the dire need for foster parents. There are too few foster parents anyway, but even fewer from the professional and business community, and the more good homes foster children have to go to, the better off everyone will be, they said.
"Ultimately this comes out of all our pockets," Byron Mills said. "And if this problem grows, this burden will grow for everyone and in myriad ways."
Stephanie Tavares covers utilities and law for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication the Las Vegas Sun. She can be reached at 259-4059 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: In Business Las Vegas