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Attorney fighting to get paid by county after judicial orders vanish

A former Guardian Ad Litem attorney representing vulnerable children for Grays Harbor Superior Court is fighting to get paid what she says the county owes her for services performed several years ago.

Tamara Milligan-Darst of Montesano recently filed a $39,002 claim for damages against the county after discovering that court orders signed by Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey ordering that she get paid inexplicably vanished out of the court files.

Darst says she had to discontinue being an attorney in 2011 due to health reasons and discovered that the payments were never sent. But, she says, she was focused on her own health and didn’t want to deal with billing issues.

Today, she says she feels better and wants the issues dealt with. She says she discovered that the four judicial orders from Godfrey ordering payment were not in the court files. Because of that, the county never processed payment.

“I was just shocked to discover that the orders just didn’t exist,” Darst said. “I, apparently, was the only one with copies of the orders. I’ve been an attorney for more than 21 years and have helped the county on and off during that entire time.”

Clerk Cheryl Brown said she was initially concerned, as well, wondering if someone had raided the files in Superior Court.

“I’ve since discovered that the orders signed by Judge Godfrey were never filed,” Brown said. “They didn’t come from the court administration offices to juvenile court. I don’t know what happened.”

Since Darst had copies of the filings, Brown took them and sent it on to the county’s budget office for processing this past June. Instead of processing the payments, Judge David Edwards signed several orders n June 16 declaring that the earlier orders ordering attorney fees “is null and void.”

Edwards adds, “If Ms. Milligan-Darst wishes for the court to entertain a request for attorney fees, she can properly note it on the motion dcoket with supporting documentation of her hours.”

After Darst objected, noting it’s improper for Edwards to cancel a legitimate order by another judge, Judge Godfrey, himself, issued a similar order making the payments null and void.

Edwards told The Vidette he wasn’t sure what the issues were in this case because he was relying on Godfrey’s input on the matter. Godfrey is in the midst of retiring from his judge’s position.

“Clearly, I did the work,” Darst said. “The clients were taken care of. I have the court orders, signed. The money was just never sent — and I was sick. I couldn’t go collecting it. What’s crazy is I really could have used that money, too,because I had no insurance at the time.”

Darst’s claim for damages seeks $24,996 for the fees she says she’s owed, plus 12 percent interest. She also seeks attorney fees of $5,500 “for guidance through the process, both judicial and administrative” for a total of $39,002 sought.