“The need for justice grows out of the conflict of human interests...” ~ Thomas Nixon Carver
Can a family court Guardian ad Litem (GAL) advocate for the best interest of a child, while also advocating, and promoting, their own special interests? One Guardian ad Litem Coordinator’s work with a fatherhood organization provides yet another example of the need for increased accountability, and oversight, in Minnesota’s troubled GAL program.
Laura Miles, Guardian ad Litem Coordinator for Dakota and Goodhue counties, served as a board member in a well-known fatherhood organization in 2014 and 2015 (board terms for this organization last a period of 3 years). The stated mission of this fatherhood org is to “change the way government agencies interact with fathers and children”. That the GAL program is a government agency raises serious questions about Miles involvement, especially since her work involves supervising and training other Guardians, who may become indoctrinated if Miles has any bias.
The way Miles’ job title and name is listed in the fatherhood org’s Board of Directors gives the appearance of impropriety. The listing includes Miles’ name, her job title as GAL Coordinator (she is a state employee) her address in a state office building, and her work phone, also provided by the state.
I could not find a publicly posted policy relating to the GAL use of state property but there is a statute for the code of ethics for employees in the executive branch that is widely utilized by State employees. Stat. 43A.38, Subd. 4.Use of state property: (a) “An employee shall not use or allow the use of state time, supplies or state-owned or leased property and equipment for the employee’s private interests or any other use not in the interest of the state, except as provided by law.”
See GAL Coordinator Laura Mile’s name, and contact information included on the list for a Board of Directors for a fatherhood organization here:
In another listing, advertising a conference, Laura Miles names is listed under the title “Statewide Representation and Support for Fathers”, again the listing includes Miles title as GAL Coordinator and includes her contact information from her state office. Miles name is also listed on the Form 990 as being part of the Board of Directors.
According to the organization, Board members must be “passionate about advancing the fatherhood field” Those who are interested in serving on the Board must “self nominate” and send a letter of interest, How can Miles remain neutral, and objective, in her position as GAL Coordinator while also be actively seeking a role to be involved, and promote the fatherhood agenda – or any agenda, for that matter?
This is clearly a conflict of interest.
I could not find a publicly posted conflict of interest statement for the GAL program but the code of ethics for employees in the executive branch offers some direction. Subd. 5.Conflicts of interest, “The following actions by an employee in the executive branch shall be deemed a conflict of interest and subject to procedures regarding resolution of the conflicts, section 434A.39 or disciplinary action as appropriate…2) acceptance of other employment or contractual relationship that will affect the employee’s independence of judgment in the exercise of official duties…“
Subd. 6.Determination of conflicts of interest, “When an employee believes the potential for a conflict of interest exists, it is the employee’s duty to avoid the situation. A conflict of interest shall be deemed to exist when a review of the situation by the employee, the appointing authority or the commissioner determines any one of the following conditions to be present: (1) the use for private gain or advantage of state time, facilities, equipment or supplies or badge, uniform, prestige or influence of state office or employment…”
A conflict of interest occurs when professional judgment is influenced by a secondary interest. For a GAL, their job, and priority, is to protect the interests and well-being of the child. A GAL is supposed to be neutral, and unbiased; Miles involvement with the fatherhood org suggests favoritism, and bias. Her role may also lead to forming alliances that could deter the outcome of justice if cronyism were to occur. Miles, herself, once said, in a presentation, that a Guardian ad Litem should represent the “pure” best interests of a child, and should not have any competing interests. As a GAL Coordinator, Miles should be held to an even higher standard because her job involves the supervision of other GALs.
Interesting enough, the fatherhood org DOES have its own conflict of interest policy that its Board Members have to sign.
Laura Miles has been employed with the GAL program since 1997. Miles is well known for her role as GAL in the Grazzini-Rucki case, she was appointed in May 2013 after Julie Friedrich withdrew from the case. Friedrich withdrew after allegations of misconduct involving her role in the Grazzini-Rucki case became public.
The lack of accountability in the Minnesota GAL program leads to abuses of power, and conflicts of interest, that detract from the purpose of the program to protect children and, places the lives of children at risk.