Small State Agency Has Noble Cause, Big Budget Woes
Commission trains lawyers to aid poor people, but has run up deficit
Hartford Courant - Nov 24 02:57am
HARTFORD, Connecticut- The state Commission on Child Protection is a tiny office with a big mission – training, paying and supervising the private lawyers who represent poor parents and children in emotional, complex neglect and parental-rights cases.
Now the office is in the spotlight for another reason: It has run up, on the basis of percentage of budget, the highest projected deficit of any agency in the state.
The $3.8 million shortfall four months into the fiscal year represents 33 percent of the commission's $11.4 million budget, proportionately higher, by far, than other state departments, including mammoth agencies like the departments of social services and correction.
Lawmakers at a budget hearing last week were sympathetic to the demands on the commission, but said that the shortfall, small in terms of the state's $19 billion budget, was nonetheless tantamount to runaway spending and sent the wrong message to taxpayers and other state departments. A $3.7 billion budget deficit is projected for 2012.
Two lawmakers, Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport, and Rep. Juan Candelaria, D- New Haven, asked lead commission lawyer Carolyn Signorelli if some of the private lawyers — who are paid $40 or $75 an hour depending on training — were bilking the state by cheating on their bills. Signorelli said that audits have found a few lawyers who were abusing the system, but that the vast majority were doing high-quality work. She said when the lawyers were paid a flat fee of $350 per case up until a few years ago, most of them "did next to nothing'' on the cases. FULL STORY
Is the solution to this insane mess to abandon the premise of justice OR abandon the harassment of families for absurd accusations?