Suzanne Shell, who heads the American Family Advocacy Center, is a qualified expert in family law pursuant to the Rules of Evidence. She has helped many parents to protect their rights regarding custody and in dependency and neglect cases but she is not a licensed attorney.
Most court-appointed attorneys in child neglect and abuse cases are hired by the judges they appear before. Thus, to protect their relations with the judge who employs them they frequently simply stand aside and allow Department of Human Services (DHS) case workers to remove children from parents for the flimsiest of reasons.
Conversely, Suzanne Shell is an assertive advocate of family and parental rights. As a result of her zealous advocacy in defense of parental rights she has made many enemies in the courts, bar associations, and DHS child protective services.
Ms. Shell defended herself by pointing out that the legislature provided the public under C.R.S. § 15-1-1304 with the right to choose an advocate and reject a court-appointed attorney. That statute allows the individual granted a Power of Attorney to:
"(d) prosecute, defend, submit to arbitration, settle and propose or accept a compromise with respect to a claim existing in favor of or against the principal or intervene in litigation relating to the claim.
The Colorado Supreme Court, in its less than infinite wisdom, says that the statute is intended only to allow the person given a Power of Attorney to hire an attorney to "prosecute, defend, submit to arbitration, etc."
If that is true, then the statute would not make a distinction between its paragraph (d) and its paragraph (f) [both quoted above]. Clearly, if an individual granted a Power of Attorney could only "engage" an attorney to "prosecute or defend" then paragraph (d) would not be in the legislation. It is notable that the Power of Attorney statutes provide two separate subsections that both provide for a person to choose their own advocate in a court proceeding. See C.R.S. § 15-1-1304 and C.R.S. § 15-1-1313.
(a) Assert and prosecute before a court or administrative agency a claim, claim for relief, cause of action, counterclaim, offset, and defend against an individual, a legal entity, or government, including suits to recover property or thing of value, to recover damages sustained by the principal, to eliminate or modify tax liability, or to seek an injunction specific performance, or other relief.
Additionally, the statutory Power of Attorney form, dictated in C.R.S. § 15-1-1302, warns the grantee that the granting of a Power of Attorney gives the agent the power to do any act which the grantee could do for themselves, including litigate. The statutory language of the Colorado Power of Attorney dictates that decisions made by the agent are binding as though the grantee performed the act themselves. To wit: "The person you designate (your "agent") [has] broad and sweeping powers to handle your property and affairs." The grantee must indemnify the acts of the agent as dictated in the last paragraph of a Power of Attorney. With this language, the statute makes it clear that a Power of Attorney is not only to be used on behalf of incompetent people.
While attempting to justify their blatant disregard for enacted law the justices of the Colorado Supreme Court would have you believe that they only want "qualified people" representing citizens in court. However, a glance at the number of cases brought against incompetent lawyers every month in the Colorado Lawyer (click on month of interest then scroll down to Colorado Disciplinary Cases) will demonstrate that a "license" to practice law does not guarantee competence.
Contrast Roger Keithly's ruling in this case with the behavior of Gerald Perryman. Mr. Perryman was hired as a magistrate despite the fact that he was not licensed to practice law in Colorado, and held his appointment illegally in violation of C.R.S. § 13-5-301 (2). Of course the Supreme Court chose to overlook this judicial fraud despite the ruination of citizen's lives Perryman's ignorant and incompetent rulings caused while he sat on a bench he had no right to occupy.
One might also point out the case where Charles Hoppin forced a 13-year-old girl to defend herself, i.e., practice law, against two licensed attorneys on a criminal charge in his courtroom. But the Supreme Court didn't regard that poor young lady's actions as the "unauthorized practice of law."