CASA Could Cost Tax Payers

A Judge's decision to bar a local non-profit agency from her courtroom could end up costing you. For years, Court Appointed Special Advocates has been working in Smith County courtrooms. That is, until last week, when Judge Carole Clark issued an ordered preventing CASA staff and volunteers in her courtroom. Paula Cross, CASA Volunteer says, "There's just a lot that we do as a volunteer. We invest our time, our love, our money willingly and we don't get paid a dime." These volunteers are advocates for the children, for free.

Judge Becky Dempsey says, "CASA provides volunteers to represent children in family cases, if CASA volunteers were not available to represent these children the court would have to appoint an attorney to do the same. So CASA has provided service that saves around $350,000 a year in what the county would spend on attorney's fee." We asked Judge Dempsey who will pay an attorney to represent the children? Judge Dempsey says, "Obviously the tax payers are going to have to foot the bill, if we are not using CASA volunteers and there are not other alternatives provided as far as volunteers."

Monday, Judge Carole Clark issued another order that says Sean Healy, Attorney at Law is appointed as guardian ad litem in such cases. That means Healy will be looking out for the best interest of the child. The order also authorizes CASA for Kids of East Texas, to obtain or secure the personal notes and records of its volunteers and volunteer qualifications. Those qualifications will then be reviewed by the guardian, who decides who will serve. We spoke with Judge Carole Clark this Monday afternoon. She told us that she is trying not to incur a lot of expenses for the county and that she wants to make sure the children are taken care of.

Karolyn Davis, reporting.