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Maintaining Our Human Connections

Hard Times Can Break Us Apart, But They Can Also Bring Us Together

Attorneys Marc Lopez and Emily Angel recently discussed the challenges of working as a children’s advocate, how extroverts can survive in isolation, and why owning six cats doesn’t necessarily make you a cat lady. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.

Marc Lopez
I am with my good friend, Emily. Emily! Introduce yourself. Say, hi, please.

Emily Angel
Hi, my name’s Emily Angel. I am an attorney at Kids’ Voice of Indiana. I do mainly family law with a special interest in guardian ad litem work. I work here full time. I supervise our guardian ad litem program. I’m also the coordinator for our mobile law clinic. In addition to my work at Kids’ Voice, I also have a private practice—it’s pretty small—where I’m mainly doing private guardian ad litem work in the donut counties. 

Marc Lopez
So Kids’ Voice are some of the absolute most fun people I’ve ever hung out with, so one of the tragedies of the COVID—there’s a lot of tragedies—was the golf outing was cancelled, and I really was sad, because I’ve had so much fun at those. Emily, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me. I appreciate it.

Emily Angel
Yeah.

Marc Lopez
You mentioned Kids’ Voice. When you go to the Kids’ Voice website, it has a really cool tagline. It says: Indiana’s champion for endangered children. Tell us more about this, because obviously helping kids is awesome, and that tagline got me to donate and spend time with you guys—what goes on day-to-day at Kids’ Voice?

Emily Angel
Sure. Well, first, let me say I appreciate your support of Kids’ Voice. You’re one of our supporters, and we appreciate you and all that you’ve done, and we definitely look forward to having you at a golf outing at some point once it’s safe to do so. 

The way I see our work at Kids’ Voice is kind of threefold. We have three main programs. We have the Children’s Law Center of Indiana, and in that program we do a lot of advocacy and research and information-sharing to the community—to the entire State of Indiana. We do road shows. We go and do presentations across the State—whether or not that be presentations about guardian ad litem work or CHINS law or family law. We do a ton of those presentations. We’ve actually been able to switch some of that to virtual now, too. Even in these times, those issues are still coming up for families across the State—and for practitioners, as well. The Law Center also produces the CHINS Deskbook, which is an awesome resource that’s on the desk of every juvenile court judge in the State. We get grants so that we can provide that resource to them, and our staff attorneys are hard at work preparing the 2020 Deskbook, so that’ll be available hopefully sometime this year. 

Another program we have is our Safe Child Parenting Time Program—SCPT for short. In that program, we actually bring parents and children in, and they’re able to visit with one another safely. So these are parents who’ve maybe had mental health or substance abuse issues in the past, or there’s some reason why the courts have decided that their parenting time needs to be supervised with their children. It’s our belief that children should have access to their parents, and we are able to provide a safe—and now sterilized—space for that. We were closed briefly, but we have reopened, and I know our CEO, Lindsay, and our director of that program, Claudia, are doing everything that they can to keep that space very clean for our families who are here. 

Also, we have the Guardian ad Litem Program, and that program is the one that’s mainly in Marion County. We are appointed by the civil family law courts to advocate for children’s best interests in divorce cases, custody cases, paternity, guardianships, adoptions. We train volunteers—a lot of them are local family law attorneys, so shout out to all of those folks who are helping us out, but we also have community volunteers, those who are non-lawyers, who are trained by us, as well—who go out and do investigations and write reports and advocate for kids in those types of cases. Our mission is advocating for and serving children, and we do that in a wide variety of ways. 

Marc Lopez
Emily, you’ll have to forgive my ignorance. I made it through about six months of private practice before I gave up on family law, and a lot of people watching this may not have any idea what a guardian ad litem does. Can you break that down for us?

Emily Angel
Sure. So this is someone who is a party to the case in most cases—so it’s someone that the court appoints. When we’re appointed, the Marion County courts will appoint Kids’ Voice—the agency—as the guardian ad litem for the child, and then we assign volunteers to the case. This can also be done privately, outside of an agency, as well. The guardian ad litem—once they’re appointed—their role is to reach out to the parties—so mom and dad, grandparents, whoever’s involved—reach out to the child or children in the case, and talk to them—try to glean what’s going on in the situation and investigate whatever the issue in the case is. So let’s say it’s a parenting time dispute or a custody dispute, try to talk to everyone involved to see what would be best for the child. 

Guardians ad litem also talk to a lot of third parties, so if anybody’s involved in counseling, or sometimes they’ll talk to the teacher. They also look at records, so they’re really kind of the eyes and ears for the court outside of the courtroom, because obviously the judges can’t go out and do those types of investigations. A lot of people think of GALs as “neutral”—a neutral party in the case—I don’t really like that term, because I think of them as an advocate for the kid. So I don’t think that’s a neutral position. But it is someone who should be looking at everything from the perspective of the child and what’s best for them.

Marc Lopez
Not every case has a guardian ad litem assigned to it, am I right about that?

Emily Angel
Yes, that’s correct. A lot of times, we’re appointed in cases where . . . either the parties have requested us, or the judges have just decided on their own that we’re needed, because there have been some allegations of danger to the child or substance abuse issues, mental health issues. So a lot of the cases we’re getting involved in are very contentious, and they could involve some danger for the child if a good decision isn’t made, and so the judge just wants that extra background information and someone to advocate for the kid.

Marc Lopez
Am I right, then? So the parties can request it, or the judge can—by himself—request it, as well?

Emily Angel
That’s correct.

Marc Lopez
In your role as the guardian ad litem, how challenging is it to walk up to the parents, and be like, Hey, I’m getting involved—I can’t even imagine! I feel like I’m a rational person, but if somebody just came up to me and said, Hey, I’m now involved in your case . . .  What are some tricks you have to try and let that parent know you’re not there against them, you’re there for the kids? How do you connect like that?

Emily Angel
That is really tough. You encounter people with all different types of backgrounds and levels of defensiveness and levels of just not knowing what’s going on, right? I always start out by just explaining my role to them. This is why I’m here. I know you want what’s best for your kid. Because a lot of times people—they may make poor decisions or they may have less resources than would be desirable or whatever’s going on in their lives—I would say that the majority of the parents that I talk to—even if they’ve done something wrong or made a mistake—they love their kids, and they want what’s best for their kids. 

So if you come at them with that, Hey I’m just trying to help us all get to that place where your child is in the safest environment that’s gonna be the best place for them—sometimes that can help. Honestly? It doesn’t always help, and sometimes you have to reiterate that. And there’s a lot of folks who don’t realize that a guardian ad litem is not an attorney for them, so we may get hit with a lot of legal questions from the parents, so part of my role, too, at Kids’ Voice is to figure out how to balance that. We can’t give parents legal advice, but we can always try to refer them back to their counsel, if they have an attorney, or refer them to other legal resources. It’s always a struggle, but that’s what we try to do.

Marc Lopez
Yeah, I wouldn’t even think about that—the parents seeing you as a resource. It’s complicated. Emily, give us the rundown of a typical day for you.

Emily Angel
It’s quite different now in the pandemic times, but I’ll tell you what my desired routine would be, and what I used to do, and what I’m trying to get back to. I usually start my day pretty early in the morning—crack of dawn—try to get a workout in. Try to do something to set my day in a positive tone. Then I try to get to work ahead of other people. That way I can get my email inbox as clean as possible for the day. There’s a lot of looking at my calendar. On any given day, I could be participating in meetings for Kids’ Voice, meetings for one of the committees I’m on for the State Bar or IndyBar—I could be having meetings with clients, meetings with parents. 

Lately I’ve been doing Zoom meetings with the kiddos that I’m GAL for, so that’s been fun—getting to see them kind of in their natural pandemic habitats that they’ve created for themselves in their rooms. I usually have between two and five meetings per day, so that’s usually what I’m doing throughout the day, and then I wrap up hopefully by 4:30 or 5:00. I’m also a very social person—back before the pandemic, and even now—I’m usually involved in some sort of happy hour with friends—now virtually—just to kind of catch up with folks and commiserate with my fellow family law attorneys. I enjoy doing that. We’ve gotta be there for each other. We have a very strong Family Law Bar here in Marion County and Indianapolis, and we’re a pretty close-knit group, so that’s good. That’s pretty much my day.

Marc Lopez
I don’t do any family law, but I feel like as soon as you and I became friends, and the other family law attorneys saw that you were friends with me, they were like, Oh! I guess we’ll be friends with Marc, too. So I really do credit you with some of that.

Emily Angel
Well, we’re a very welcoming bunch, I think, so you’re welcome to hang out with us. 

Marc Lopez
You guys really are supportive, too, on these various Facebook groups I see—just lifting each other up. That’s awesome!

One of your friends—I asked them for some intel on you—suggested asking you, How does an extrovert survive a pandemic? You mentioned these happy hours—what other kinds of tips do you have for people that are feeling stir-crazy right now?

Emily Angel
I would say just trying to stay connected as much as you can. It’s not ideal. At first—for me at least—there was this like, Oh, this is so doom and gloom, like never going to be able to do anything ever again—you know, it was very sad, but I’m lucky to have the support system that I do and have the friends that I do and be able to maintain those connections. There’s Zoom, of course—which is what we’re using now—and it has its limitations. There’s also other apps that you can get just searching on your app store on your phone or on your iPad or your device. Or you can play games with people.

There are also virtual tours of places that are pretty cool. So museums all around the world that you may never get to see in real life, but now they’ve opened up their doors. So I would suggest doing that with a friend. Also, staying connected with people on social media—having those conversations in the comments section—I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s always been a part of my life even before the pandemic, and I’ve always got my Facebook buddies there, if I need ’em.

Marc Lopez
One of the best apps I’ve found is that Houseparty app—

Emily Angel
Yes! I was just thinking of that, where you can draw pictures . . . 

Marc Lopez
—me and my friends from high school and college, we found a game like you mentioned—we found ’90s trivia. It was, like, 3:00 in the morning, and we’re all like, I need to go to bed. I feel like this pandemic has been very difficult and challenging, but we have so many cool tools—internet, video chat—we have so many ways to help out with this.

Emily, you talked about the challenges of your job—just knowing you and talking to you in this interview—I know you love your job, because if you didn’t love your job, you wouldn’t get there bright and early, you wouldn’t be smiling, you wouldn’t—I mean, everything about you is screaming you love what you do—so what keeps you inspired?

Emily Angel
Honestly, I’m not always happy and smiley. So, we’ll start there. There are lots of times when I have  to express my frustration. This kind of goes back to what I was just talking about, but having people that you can commiserate with and having good relationships outside of court with opposing counsel so that you can talk to them on a human level about cases and get better results—I think it’s really important. Being able to communicate with people—advocate for your position and your client’s position, of course—but being able to talk to people on a level where you can get things done instead of just butting heads the whole time. 

I think that makes my job more enjoyable. It makes me a happier person, and I honestly think it leads to better results for the kiddos that we serve at Kids’ Voice. I would say everyone I work with at Kids’ Voice is really good at that aspect—of being real and being available to people and being easy to work with and good to work with on cases. I do think that’s part of our ability to succeed and get things done. We’re all staunch advocates for children and making sure their needs are met and those sorts of things. Those human connections are a big part of why I enjoy my job.

Marc Lopez
That’s awesome. That is awesome. I know a number of people that work with you, and they all speak so highly of you—that’s a fact. Everyone that I talk to—that’s in my circle—they just love you. So keep it up. You sound like a fantastic person to work with and for.

Emily Angel
Well, thank you.

Marc Lopez
Okay! So now we have some pop quiz time here.

Emily Angel
Oh, gosh. Okay.

Marc Lopez
There’s only four—it’s not gonna be that bad. Cats or dogs?

Emily Angel
Well, it’s funny that you ask that, because it’s no secret to my friends on social media that I have several cats—we’ll just say that.

Marc Lopez
How many is several?

Emily Angel
About . . . six—but! They all have the same biological mom cat, so I kinda think that since they’re all related, that makes it better . . . somehow . . . in my head.

Marc Lopez
You’re keeping the family together! I respect that!

Emily Angel
Exactly! I don’t want any broken homes for human children or cat children, but it’s funny—

Marc Lopez
That’s how deep your love runs!

Emily Angel
It’s funny, though, because I’d probably say that I’m more of a dog person. I always tell people that. I was never a cat person until I got my cats. And I still get more excited to see other people’s dogs. That’s the truth. 

Marc Lopez
Okay: Tater tots or French fries?

Emily Angel
I would say French fries, but in the form of chips—like true English pub fair chips.

Marc Lopez
Okay. And I’ve been following you on social media for quite some time. You’ve actually gone to England at least twice in the time I’ve known you.

Emily Angel
Yeah, so I try to get there at least once a year. It is my favorite country to visit, and I studied abroad there when I was in college. So I’ve made some connections there, and I just love going back and kind of exploring new parts. I actually was supposed to be in England right now. So we could be having this interview, and I’d be on the Isle of Wight—but, alas, I’m here! So look forward to—

Marc Lopez
I will have a beer for you, and I’ll drink it and I’ll think about how you should be somewhere else.

Without naming names—what is the craziest thing you’ve seen the opposing party or their attorney do in a hearing?

Emily Angel
In a hearing?

Marc Lopez
Yes.

Emily Angel
Well, I have had someone kind of in the middle of their testimony—this was not a party, this was a witness—sort of start to give a mini-sermon that the judge had to end, because I think everyone else was too afraid to object. So I would say that was probably the one of the most intense things that I’ve seen.

Marc Lopez
Yeah, you can’t object—you’re making God mad.

Emily Angel
Right, hard to argue with that.

Marc Lopez
What is the craziest thing you’ve seen from your front porch? I’ve heard your house is quite the hotbed of activity.

Emily Angel
From my front porch? I don’t know. I see a lot of different weird things from my front porch. Lots of people have a wide variety of interest in music, and they like to play that music very loudly, and they have some very creative displays of their speakers and subwoofers. I have a neighbor whose entire vehicle appears to be made out of speakers. So that’s interesting. I would say that’s one of the most interesting things on my block. Without mentioning anybody specific—you know, criminal and potential alleged criminal activity. That’s what I’ll say.

Marc Lopez
Okay, if someone wants to reach you, what is the best number to reach you at?

Emily Angel
So I have a lot—since I wear several hats, I have several different numbers. But I would say probably, they could reach me the quickest via 317-721-9235.

Marc Lopez
And if someone wanted to get you involved in a guardian ad litem case—you said you kinda do those in donut counties. Would a party reach out to you to get you hired? Or would the court? How does that work for—

Emily Angel
Though it happens, it happens a lot of different ways. I would say that the majority of the time when I’m appointed on a private guardian ad litem case, it is because opposing counsel reaches out to me and says, Hey, I’m putting together a panel. Do you have any conflicts with these people? Or, Are you available right now? You know, This is kind of the gist of what we need. You know, What are your fees? You know, those kinds of things. 

And so it’s usually coming from opposing counsel—then they’ll request it from the court. Ultimately, the court has to order that a guardian ad litem is appointed, and they order the specific guardian ad litem. Sometimes, every now and again, a judge will just  appoint me, but more than likely that happens because opposing counsel has reached out and gotten the all-clear ahead of time.

Marc Lopez
That’s awesome. Is the number you gave—would that be the best number for them to reach out to you?

Emily Angel
Yeah, absolutely.

Marc Lopez
Well, that’s perfect. Thank you so much for spending the afternoon with me. I appreciate it.

Emily Angel
Yeah, of course. 

Marc Lopez
Can I ask you for a favor?

Emily Angel
Sure.

Marc Lopez
Will you say, “I plead the Fifth” with me on the count of three? Is that possible? You don’t have to . . .

Emily Angel
Yes.

Marc Lopez
One!

Emily Angel
I will—

Marc Lopez
Two!

Emily Angel
—and I do.

Marc Lopez
Three! I plead the Fifth!

Emily Angel
I plead the Fifth!

Marc Lopez
Thank you so much.