Shook Pro Bono Work Results in Significant Right to Counsel Ruling

Shook's pro bono work includes a significant victory for custodian rights to an attorney in family court in Missouri. K.G., Shook's client, originally appeared in family court without an attorney while facing serious allegations of abuse and neglect. Rather than informing K.G. of his statutory right to an attorney and making a determination on his eligibility, the court proceeded to hear testimony from the chief witness against K.G. During a subsequent recess, K.G. requested the help of an attorney for the remainder of the proceeding. The court then appointed him the counsel of Shook attorneys Mike Cappo and Megan Roth. The petitions against K.G. were ultimately sustained.

On appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, Cappo and Roth were joined in arguing for reversal by Ruth Anne French-Hodson. Cappo and French-Hodson argued that the decision should be reversed and remanded because K.G. was denied his statutory right to counsel in family court proceedings. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case. In language that largely mirrored the arguments raised by Cappo, French-Hodson and Roth, the court held that when a custodian appears in family court without an attorney, that court must notify the custodian of her right to counsel and make a determination on her eligibility. The court went on to hold that language in a summons regarding the right to counsel is not sufficient to inform a custodian of her right to counsel, and further, a custodian does not waive her right to counsel by failing to request counsel at the beginning of a proceeding. The decision represented a significant victory in ensuring that custodians who are entitled to counsel can access that help and that hearings in family court are full and fair for all participants.