Los Angeles Times Spotlights Bet Tzedek-O'Melveny Pro Bono Collaboration to Assist Families Caring For Disabled Children

May 21, 2012 The May 21, 2012 Los Angeles Times article, “Judge calls conservatorships a 'celebration of family',” spotlights the Family Matters program, a cooperative effort between longtime O’Melveny pro bono collaborator Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Probate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court.

The Family Matters Project serves low-income families caring for severely developmentally disabled children who are nearing or have reached the age of 18. Family Matters has a twofold purpose: education and legal representation. It educates families about the legal significance and impact of their disabled children reaching the age of 18, after which the child obtains all legal rights of an adult whether or not he suffers from cognitive impairments. The project also provides direct representation of the families to assist them in attaining a limited conservatorship that enables them to make important decisions for their child. It allows for lawyers to serve the constituent families at the school their children attend and then to have a single court hearing day at which all of the cases are heard by a Probate Judge in a specially orchestrated proceeding.

Under limited conservatorship, a family can seek continued control over decisions involving an adult child's residence, education, confidential records, contracts, medical treatment, marriage and domestic partnerships, and sexual and social contacts. This control helps families protect their children from scams and abuse, according to the report.

The article notes that after a 2011 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation allowed the project to expand and to develop training materials for pro bono volunteers, O'Melveny & Myers signed on to help, providing 10 pro-bono lawyers to assist the families. As part of the effort, O’Melveny assisted in drafting a training manual and recruited and trained the volunteer attorneys for the Family Matters Project. O’Melveny lawyers spent more than five months attending training sessions, meeting with their family clients and lawyers for the children appointed by the probate court, drafting numerous probate court filings, and attending the final Hearing Day when the Probate Court granted families their limited conservatorships.

The Family Matters program also was mentioned on the blog Jews and Special Needs. “I went along with the Bet Tzedek Family Matters program to witness a group of 15 families from a Special Education High School having their day in court to obtain Limited DD Conservatorships for their significantly disabled teens, all close to 18 years old,” blog host Michelle Wolf wrote in a May 20, 2012 post. “These low-income families had all received pro bono assistance from attorneys at O’Melveny and Myers, one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the United States and beyond. One by one each family was called up to the bench with their pro bono attorney and with a separate attorney, called a PVP (‘Probate Volunteer Panel’) to represent the rights of the client…Without these limited conservatorships, it can be very difficult for parents to participate in medical decisions (due to privacy laws), see confidential papers or have any control over signing contracts.”