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Office of Law Guardian

Lorraine Augostini
Lorraine Augostini
Assistant Public Defender



The Office of Law Guardian (OLG), a unit within the Office of the Public Defender, provides legal representation to children in family court matters involving allegations of abuse and neglect against parents or other caregivers, or in cases involving termination of parental rights.

In child welfare cases in New Jersey, children have rights separate and distinct from those of their parents. One important right a child has is the right to have an attorney, known as a law guardian, represent the child in court, present the child’s wishes to the judge and protect the child’s legal interests throughout the legal proceeding. A law guardian maintains a traditional lawyer-client relationship with the child to the extent possible.

The law guardian helps the child-client understand the child’s legal rights and the court process and keeps the child informed as the case progresses through the child welfare system. The law guardian will counsel the child and give legal advice about the most realistic course of action to protect the child’s safety and to advance the child’s wishes and interests. The special training and expertise of law guardians help the child participate fully in court hearings.

Each law guardian works as a part of a team of professionals on behalf of the children OLG represents. This team includes specially trained investigators and clerical staff. Investigators take an active role in meeting the child to discover the relevant facts of the case necessary to developing a position on behalf of the child-client.

Similar to the confidential relationship between attorneys and the clients in other types of matters, the law guardian attorney and investigator enjoy a confidential relationship with the child-client. In order to protect the confidentiality of this relationship, the law guardian attorney and investigator may ask to meet privately with the child-client either at home or at school.

The investigator may also need to interview other people involved in the child’s life to gain facts about the case and to help further the child’s position. It is important that the investigator be provided with accurate information that will allow the child’s lawyer to develop the best legal position for the child.

OLG has a separate appellate unit (OLGA) responsible for handling appellate matters. Currently, OLGA has seven appellate attorneys representing the interests and wishes of minor clients before both the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The OLG also undertakes DYFS conflict investigations when allegations of abuse are made against DYFS staff or members of their families. The “Conflict Unit” within OLG is comprised of a team of highly skilled investigators who work exclusively on conducting investigations of such allegations.

OLG Resources and Offices

OLG has staff attorneys throughout the state assigned to represent children in child welfare matters. Currently, OLG has seven trial regions comprised of thirteen (13) offices throughout the state.

Click here for a listing of the OLG Offices

 

When children are involved with DYFS (the Division of Youth and Family Services) and are removed from their homes because their parents are not able to care for them at this time, you and the members of your family will go to court to talk with the judge.

If this happens to you and your family, one important right you have in New Jersey is the right to your own lawyer separate from your parents who will stand up just for you in the court case. This lawyer has a special name and is called a “law guardian.”

Here are some basic questions you may have about your law guardian:

WHAT IS A LAW GUARDIAN?

A law guardian is a specially trained lawyer chosen by the judge to stick up for you in court. Your law guardian speaks to the judge for you and tells the judge what you want and what you need. Your law guardian works only for you and not for DYFS or for your parents.

Your law guardian will help you to understand the court proceeding and explain the choices you may have.

WILL MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALSO HAVE A LAW GUARDIAN?

Yes. Usually, the same law guardian represents all the children in one family who are involved in the court case. However, if your wishes or interests are different from those of your brothers or sisters, then another law guardian may be asked to represent your siblings.

HOW OFTEN WILL I SEE MY LAW GUARDIAN?

Your law guardian will come to visit you in your home or at your school at different times throughout your case. Your law guardian works together with a partner called an “investigator” who will also visit you. Your law guardian and investigator work together to help you and to speak for you during the court case. Your conversations with your law guardian and investigator are private and cannot be shared with others without your permission.

Your law guardian and investigator may speak to other people in your life such as your resource family, your counselor or your teacher so that your law guardian can better serve you.

HOW CAN I REACH MY LAW GUARDIAN?

Each law guardian works in an office in the area where your court case is happening. Your law guardian will provide you with the office phone number to call if you need to reach your law guardian. If you do not have this number, you can call our main office and ask for help in reaching your law guardian. The number to call is: 609-530-3623.