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County spent nearly $13,000 pursuing grandmother's $1,004 debt [UPDATED]

Sally Stokes in her home in Compton. Los Angeles County has paid private lawyers nearly $13,000 to pursue $1,004 in debt owed by a Compton woman for time her 16-year-old granddaughter was held in a juvenile probation camp, officials acknowledged today.

The debt was still being pursued this week, county counsel said, despite a moratorium on such billing declared last month. The moratorium was called by probation chief Robert Taylor after The Times and children’s advocates raised serious questions about his department’s billing practices.

The disclosure that the county already had spent nearly 13 times the actual debt owed came at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting as Zev Yaroslavsky grilled county counsel about the billing of Sally Stokes.

Her case is scheduled to be considered by a judge Wednesday in Eastlake Juvenile Court in Los Angeles.

Stokes, the legal guardian for her granddaughter, had appealed the county’s order that she pay $25 a month toward the debt. She argued that because she lived on Social Security payments of $1,650 a month, she could not afford the monthly payments. State law allows counties to bill parents and guardians of minors held in juvenile probation camps and halls for each day the child spends in the system, but it prohibits the billing of those too poor to pay.

In Stokes’ case, county probation officials apparently improperly counted toward her income the foster care payments she received for looking after three other grandchildren.

[UPDATE: Stokes' attorney said later that her client receives state payments for her grandchildren through the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment program.]

“How did it get this far?” Yaroslavsky asked. “Somebody should have been saying this doesn’t make sense. This grandmother slipped through the cracks of the moratorium.”

Yaroslavsky directed county counsel to report back to him about the legal costs of hiring outside counsel in the case: the Glendale-based firm Lawrence, Beach, Allen & Choi. He also asked for a complete assessment of how many other cases the firm was pursuing against parents and guardians who owed money for their children’s time in detention.

Yaroslavsky said he was concerned about whether the county was spending more than it recouped from parents, about $2.6 million last year.

County Counsel Raymond Fortner told the board that he did not believe the county was spending more than it recovered on the bills. He said he was not sure how many cases were being handled by outside counsel but that it was uncommon and the appeals were usually handled administratively.

Under questioning, Fortner first told the board that the fees encompassed more than just Stokes' case. After the meeting, however, he acknowledged that the $12,800 legal bill was for work on the one case. He said the county had hired outside counsel because "the case involved broader issues."

Children's advocates have argued that legal guardians such as Stokes who have taken in children who would otherwise be in foster care should not be billed for probation.

Read The Times story about this case.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Sally Stokes in her home in Compton. Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (23)

gvt is worst when gvt is found to do such as this, and worse yet when the persons we elect to stop this sort of thing are ignored?
Drag the beauracrats in before the bar I say.

We the people are surrounded by idiots downtown. Get the hook!

This is disgusting...but unfortunately...I'm not one bit surprised!
Isn't it amazing...that the person(s) who made this decision were hired because of their higher education and experience.

Common sense seems to not come into play with these decisions....no wonder..NO WONDER the city, state is in a fiscal crisis!!

The Bar should thoroughlhy investigate this Glendale law firm...but then again...it's the wolves watching the wolves.

To say that this grandmother must have fallen through the cracks...GIVE ME A BREAK...

I'm sure this woman spoke loud and clear about this...but as usual...the "system" didn't want to hear it!

I don't think the issue is so simple. Yes spending 13k on lawyers is a waste (I'm sure the lawyers don't think so) but what is the lesson? If you wait long enough, your punishment/debt is forgotten?

Why would it take expensive outside counsel to follow up on this routine bill? Why can't the county counsel's office take care of routine stuff like this without lining the pockets of more expensive lawyers? Some law firm in Glendale (and others?) must have a really good 'in' to get the counsel's office to pay them to do this EASY work!!!

if you insist on harassing granny, as a lesson to others
instead of hiring $12000 lawyer to squeeze $ from granny,
maybe hire $10/hour bill collector (maybe another granny) to bug granny

This makes as much sense as AT& T spending $ .42 to mail me a $ .07 check, only on a larger scale!

The county should pull all work from Lawrence, Beach, Allen & Choi and think about filing a cause of action against the firm for malpractice and file a complaint with the bar. There is no way this case should have gone this far (I am shocked that the judge didn't throw this case out at summary judgement). The facts of this case are simple, the firm trying to argue that it counted payments from foster care as income does not pass the laugh test.

Shame on everyone who worked on this case!

Maybe there were issues in the case they took a lot of attorney time. County Counsel needs to refer certain types of cases out. Without knowing the facts and circumstances, and wthout looking at the time sheets, it's premature to say whether the $13,000 bill was reasonable or not.

This woman gets foster care payments for taking care of her other grandchildren? Where is the responsibility and accountability here? She seems like a leach on the system.

When are taxpayers going to pull the plug on the scammers who always seem to figure out how to get money for taking care of their own families. This is welfare and charity gone amuk!

Why is a woman who already has one granddaughter in her care getting sent to juvenile probation camp, being allowed to raise three other with tax payer money? The abuse of the foster care payments by relatives is something that needs to be looked into. It's another way these people leach off the system. Obviously, if this grandmother has a granddaughter getting sent to juvenile probation camp, she's shouldn't be getting a dime of tax payer money to raise the other grandkids.

LOL, the county of Los Angeles spends 10's of millions chasing child support payments from indigent fathers that use welfare funds to pay it back into the 100's of thousands.

spend millions of dollars and countless hours arresting drug addicts, who fill up jails, while the major players funnel money back to their respective countries.

They spend billions a year to provide medi-cal to people that should not have it, and charge those that should.

the spend billions of dollars a year to teach kids that are far behind, while children that are on course are set aside, and are now ranked forth from the bottom in education.

they increase California taxes, when wages are falling, while their salaries rise.

With all the taxes you pay, are your lives any better for it?

You guys have a real dilemma on your hands, but the sad thing about it, Califormians have been beat down so much, they have given up the fight to get real representation....

i would have charge the county,12,000 dollars.once i recieved the money from the county,i would have payed grandmothers bill . send the county 1,000 dollars plus 500.00. for their trbl. case closed.

I dont understand why the County Supervisor is so interested on helping out a lady who is the root of the orginal problem. You have all these ghetto people committing crimes and ripping off the government throught welfare, stamps, and bullcrap disibilities, then you want to help a lady who's daughter is costing tax payers thousands and thousands of dollars to be supervised, feed, and house at our county camps. This is typical ghetto people complaining about they dont have any money - but they have a whole lot of money to buy alcohol and drugs. Just a social trend of lazy people that refuse to work....now that the economy is getting worst - they are the first to cry foul play.

These leaches, e.g., grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter should not get one dime of help for their self-caused problems. That lady sure has some fancy furnishings for claiming only to receive Social Security. If she can afford those drapes, she can sure afford $25 a month. Her troublemaking granddaughter should get a job at McDonald's and help out too

@ James, You took the words out of my mouth, this is not an isolated issue, California overall waste more money on issues like these then any other state in the union. when you look at the responses, all you see is focus on the granny and the lawyers. our elected officials are the ones behind the scenes letting this go on, because they are unqualified on unwilling to hold government accountable, and neither are we holding them accountable.


@ RMD, You know a mind is a terrible thing to waste.... Take a moment, then take a deep breath, and understand this: We are all accountable to our own decisions, you have some people that play the system, there is no doubt about that, but many have serious issues and need that safty net, its like cancer, early detection can save your life, trying to cure it is possible, but the cost is much greater. An once of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. if people fall through the cracks, people like you and I pay a greater cost for it.

Allowing poverty to grow is creating havoc in America and around the world. let me give you an example friend. You and I live next door to each other, we both buy houses, we go to the same lender, who gives you a fixed, and me a balloon. we are having a great time being neighbors, well two years later my loans adjusts, taking me out of my range which was comfortable for me before the adjustment. I lose the house, and your houses value goes down as well. same thing.

Why did that happen, what was the root? IGNORANCE, but those that sold the package were informed enough to know I would not make it after the shift and did not warn me.

So its not only the fault of the poor, it is also the fault of individuals like us, who do not hold our elected officials accountable to make sure that these people are protected, under the same rights and laws that protect those at the upper rungs of society.

Think there is no difference, think this, if you did what Madoff did, where would you be right now?

You are a racist ignoramus.

Its not so much that she has to pay for her family's crime. its the cost.. is it worth it to spend 13,000 to receive 1000 dollars. Would state really recoup all that money..isn't this an example why govt. is in debt.

James, you've got to be kidding! What are you talking about? You are mixin apples and oranges. County has not responsibility for more than 90% of things you mentioned.

On the other hand, I have to agree that County went overboard with this lady. Should she be left off the hook, NO! I don't agree with the first poster about the ghetto thing since his comments are racist and shows ignorance and prejudice. I can show a few other "non-ghetto" people with kids that are scamming the system.

Going back to the debt, I think that $25.00 is reasonable, but for the sake of argument, then have her pay $5.00 per month, but make her pay something. Further, Children Services need to reconsider the placement of her foster grandchildren if she is having a girl in and out of juvenile hall. This is not a good enviroment to raise children. It does not matter whether they black, white, latino or asian, these kids need to go somewhere else!

Oh this is nothing. You should see how much the county spends on child support recovery. no surprise here.

The County Counsel needs to supervise outside counsel and protect taxpayer dollars, not waste it. But perhaps, county counsel's policy didn't give it a discretion on what claims to pursue and what claims not to pursue. Lawrence Beach was just following the directions of the client, it has no say on whether to prosecute the case in the first place. That decision lies squarely with County officials.


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