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Friday, April 30, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Another opinion today from the Supreme Court

In Paternity of N.P.; R.P. v. L.S., a 10-page, 4-1 decision, Justice Rucker writes for the majority:

In this opinion we conclude that where the parties in a domestic relations dispute sign a written agreement retaining the services of a guardian ad litem, the trial court, when awarding fees and expenses incurred by the guardian ad litem, is bound to enforce the terms of the agreement unless it is contrary to public policy. * * *

Because there was an absence of evidence that the parties’ agreements were void as against public policy, and the trial court made no findings as such, it was bound to enforce the terms and conditions of the agreements. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this cause for further proceedings.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson and Sullivan, JJ., concur.
Boehm, J., dissents in part with separate opinion. [which begins at p. 9] I depart from the majority and agree with the Court of Appeals that the trial court may review the reasonableness of the services rendered. Even if the hourly rate agreed is reasonable, a fee agreement is not a blank check for the attorney to fill in the amount of services rendered irrespective of the need for services. * * * Moreover, the trial court is in the best position to determine the extent to which the services rendered were in fact required or useful. * * *

I do not agree with the Court of Appeals that an attorney functioning as guardian ad litem is required to bill separately for legal and nonlegal services. Here the parties agreed on an hourly rate of $150 that the attorney says is approximately two thirds of her normal hourly rate as an attorney. If the parties choose to agree on a blended hourly rate that reflects both legal and non-legal services, I would find that presumptively valid. I would affirm the trial court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 30, 2010 04:37 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions