Friend of the Court?
Karen Hayward has been trying for years to get her ex-husband to pay overdue child support. She thought she'd finally succeeded when the Maricopa County Superior Court ordered him to pay up or be arrested in June. Hayward even had the help of the Arizona Attorney General's Office to collect the $12,000 debt.
Just imagine her suprise when an assistant attorney general had her order tossed out of court.
The assistant AG, Shawn Friend, represents Hayward's ex-husband, Mark Crawford, on a private basis--even though she also works in the same division of the AG's Office that is supposed to help Hayward collect the back child support. Friend, 28, has been Crawford's private counsel since at least January. She went to work for the AG in March in the dependency trial unit, in essence a next-door neighbor to the child support enforcement unit.
"Do you want to tell me that the Attorney General's Office pays her to represent deadbeat dads? I have a major problem with that," Hayward, 37, says.
No one in the AG's Office realized that their new colleague was also their adversary in the Hayward case. Hayward says she tried at least a dozen times to get the AG's Office's attention, but only ever heard back from Friend.
Now, both Friend's boss and a state bar association official say Friend's double duty could be a serious conflict of interest.
The AG's Office is investigating the matter, including whether she did work for Crawford on the taxpayer's dime, according to division chief Kirk Burtch, Friend's boss.
Office rules prohibit the AG's lawyers from representing anyone outside the agency, except family. "It was a breach of policy if, in fact, she did this," Burtch says.
Friend says the case was "substantially over" when she got involved. But she could not explain why, if the case was over, she filed a motion as recently as June.
After a long and bitter divorce, Hayward's ex was ordered in January to make monthly payments on his child support debt. At that time, the AG's child support enforcement division was assigned to the case to make sure Crawford paid up. He didn't, and in May, an arrest warrant was issued by the court. Crawford also was ordered to pay the entire overdue amount--now up to $12,120, according to court papers.
In June, Friend asked to have the warrant quashed because, she contended, Crawford wasn't properly notified. Hayward says she never got a copy of the motion, and without any response from her, a judge threw out both the warrant and the order to repay the overdue child support.
Friend's actions are a conflict of interest, according to Arizona State Bar senior counsel Ygael Cohen. Since the AG's Office is acting on behalf of the wife in this case, he says, Friend can't represent the husband according to state ethics rules.
After working for both Crawford and the AG for five months, Friend now agrees. She's withdrawing from the case--or, at least, she plans to. She hasn't yet notified her client of her decision, since she only made it a few days ago.
But her action may come too late. Friend never told her supervisors about her outside work, nor did she file a disclosure statement, according to Burtch.
The child support enforcement division wasn't aware that Friend had been hired by the AG, so no one in that section reported the conflict, Burtch adds.
"We have a lot of attorneys," Burtch says. He says the agency only found out about the problem last week when Hayward addressed a court document to Friend at the AG's Office and others in the office realized she had a private client.
But Hayward says she's been trying for months to alert someone in the AG's Office to the problem. She says she has complained about Friend's two-timing on at least 12 occasions. Each time, Friend was the only one from the AG's Office who responded, she says.
"She's using the resources of the AG's Office to represent him, when they're supposed to be helping me collect money from him," Hayward says.
Friend has not been disciplined. However, Burtch says she may face punishment "up to and including dismissal."
That may not be enough for Hayward. She is filing a bar complaint against Friend, and she is also considering legal action against the AG's Office.
"This is not right," she says. "I have been fighting an uphill battle, and I am tired of the excuses."
Contact Chris Farnsworth at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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