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Sye Hickey Tries Guardian ad litem Pro Bono Case

  • July 22, 2015

Charlotte, NC – As part of the firm’s pro bono initiative, Parker Poe attorneys have been assisting the North Carolina office of the Guardian ad litem with appellate cases over the past few years.  In the vast majority of these cases, Parker Poe attorneys author briefs on behalf of at-risk juvenile children, usually after the rights of one of the juvenile’s parents  have been terminated and the parent appeals the trial court’s ruling. 

Parental rights can be terminated for reasons including abuse, neglect, and dependency. Parker Poe attorneys have dealt with unfortunate Guardian ad litem cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, physical abuse, and other similar issues. With guidance from the Guardian ad litem office, Parker Poe attorneys have had much success advocating on behalf of the juveniles in the guardian ad litem capacity. 

Sye Hickey, an Associate with Parker Poe, recently appeared before the North Carolina Supreme Court and prevailed in a pro bono Guardian ad litem appeal, In re T.L.H., ___ N.C.___,  772 S.E.2d 451 (2015).

In T.L.H., the trial judge made the decision to terminate parental rights of a mother due to issues with substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health problems.  On appeal, the mother argued that she was entitled to a Guardian ad litem herself because of her mental health history and argued that the trial court improperly terminated her rights.  In a split decision, the Court of Appeals agreed with the mother; however, Judge Robert C. Hunter authored a lengthy dissent, disagreeing with the holding.

After receiving the Court of Appeals’ opinion, counsel for the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, Mercedes O. Chut, and Parker Poe’s Sye Hickey appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Exercising their clients’ rights to appeal, Ms. Chut and Mr. Hickey filed separate briefs, arguing that the Court of Appeals ignored a statutory change governing an adult’s right to a guardian ad litem and improperly applied the abuse of discretion standard.  The briefs were submitted in January and argument was heard in April.

Ultimately, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Chut and Mr. Hickey and decided that the trial court had not abused its discretion in terminating the mother’s rights.  The decision provided a just outcome for the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, its social workers and attorneys, as well as the office of the Guardian ad litem.

Will Esser, Chair of Parker Poe’s Pro Bono Committee, congratulated Sye, saying “In April, he became one of the youngest attorneys in the history of Parker Poe to orally argue and win a case before the North Carolina Supreme Court. We thank Sye for being a pro bono leader for Parker Poe and committing his time to those in need.”

Sye T. Hickey is an Associate in Parker Poe’s Litigation department and works out of the firm’s Charlotte office.  Mr. Hickey concentrates his practice in complex commercial litigation as well as government and internal investigations and white collar criminal defense. He frequently works with individual and corporate clients in disputes surrounding business torts and contractual issues.

About Parker Poe
Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP has approximately 200 lawyers in five offices located in major markets across North Carolina and South Carolina. The Firm provides legal counsel to large commercial and public organizations on litigation, corporate and regulatory matters.