The Dallas Morning News has an article titled “Texas attorney general, family-court judges battle over child support collection” that discusses the background of a new mandamus filing in the Texas Supreme Court.
The case involves a private child-support-collection business called Guardian Ad Litem, run by former Dallas judge Robert O’Donnell. Over more than 20 years, courts in the Dallas area have appointed that company to collect payments in more than 20,000 divorce cases. The firm charged each client $10 per month.
But in mid-February, the attorney general’s office announced that, according to federal and state law, it was obligated to take immediate control of about 2,300 of Guardian Ad Litem’s cases – an action that Mr. O’Donnell and some family-court judges believe will disrupt and delay child-support payments that are counted on by custodial parents to meet the needs of their families.
Since the state announced it would no longer send payments to Mr. O’Donnell’s business, the legal maneuvering has been fast and furious.
Judge Cherry, of the 301st Family District Court in Dallas, issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the attorney general’s office from redirecting child-support payments. A hearing on the order is set for March 14.
Meanwhile, the attorney general filed a request for a mandamus – an extraordinary judicial order – to the Fifth District State Court of Appeals. In stark and dramatic terms, the attorney general’s brief argued that the court’s intervention was needed to avoid the “choice between repeatedly violating federal law or violating each of these standing court orders” – referring to the divorce decrees that assigned child-support collection duties to Mr. O’Donnell.
The appeals court denied the mandamus in a decision late Thursday, and the attorney general immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The currently pending mandamus action is In re the Office of the Attorney General, No. 08-0166 [docket sheet]. The mandamus petition was filed last Friday. The Texas Supreme Court has ordered that a response be filed by noon this coming Friday, March 7th.