Honigman amicus brief helps change family law

Press Release

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a groundbreaking decision in In re Gach, Minor, striking down as unconstitutional a statute that had authorized courts to terminate a parent’s parental rights based solely on the fact that the parent’s rights to another child had previously been terminated. Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP attorneys Robert M. Riley, Andrew M. Pauwels, and Sarah E. Waidelich, as pro bono counsel to Legal Services Association of Michigan, drafted an amicus curiae brief that helped convince the Court of Appeals to declare the statute unconstitutional.

“This is an incredibly important case for families, and in particular, low-income parents. LSAM members work every day with limited resources to try to provide fair and equal access to the courts for low-income persons and families,” said Ann Routt, co-chair of LSAM’s board of directors. “We truly appreciate the pro bono support of the Honigman attorneys allowing this critical issue to be brought before the Michigan Court of Appeals.”

Gach concerned a mother whose parental rights were terminated. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s termination decision and held that there was no evidence upon which the trial court could have concluded that the mother failed to provide proper care and custody; that prior attempts to rehabilitate the mother had been unsuccessful; and that the child would be harmed if returned to the mother’s care.

Critically, the Court of Appeals also struck down as unconstitutional the statute authorizing termination based solely on the mother’s previous terminations as a violation of her due process rights. As argued by LSAM’s amicus brief, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the statute wrongfully precluded courts from considering a parent’s competence and care of his or her child.

Vivek Sankaran, an attorney with the University of Michigan Law School’s Child Welfare Appellate Clinic, and Shannon Seiferth, a student working at the Clinic, represented the respondent mother on appeal. Riley, Pauwels, and Waidelich participated in a moot court session to help prepare Seiferth for her oral argument before the Court of Appeals.

Riley, formerly a Michigan Supreme Court clerk, earned a J.D., cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School, an MBA, with high distinction, from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and a B.A. from the University of Michigan.

Pauwels earned a J.D., summa cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame Law School and a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame.

Waidelich earned a J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School and a B.S., magna cum laude, from Trine University.

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