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Custody expert revising $133K bill after CBS Atlanta investigation

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FULTON COUNTY, GA (CBS46) -

CBS Atlanta News has learned attorney James Holmes is revising his $133,000 bill in a custody case, in which he served as a guardian ad litem, after reporter Jeff Chirico questioned his fees and his recommendation.  

As a guardian ad litem, Holmes is responsible for advocating for the best interest of a 10-year-old girl whose identity CBS Atlanta News is withholding. 

Last month, Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger ordered the girl live with her father despite allegations he had sexually abused her. Holmes and a court-appointed custody evaluator, Howard Drutman, recommended that the girl's father receive primary custody of his daughter. 

CBS Atlanta News obtained an e-mail Holmes sent to the parties, indicating his fees for working on the case from Spring 2012 through April 22, 2013 totaled $133,000.89.

Eighty-percent of Holmes' fees are being paid by the father, who is reportedly a millionaire. 

Two weeks after CBS Atlanta aired the investigation that called into question the amount of fees charged, reporter Jeff Chirico obtained an e-mail indicating Holmes is changing his bill.

"All [b]illing [s]tatements are currently under review and revision for submission to Court," read the e-mail.

When contacted, Holmes would not explain why he's changing his bills. 

"They don't need to make that much money, when they're preventing the child from being protected," said Deb Beacham, executive director of My Advocate Center, a resource group on child custody issues.

Responding to the bill revision, Beacham issued a statement which reads "It is very concerning that a guardian ad litem would even be considering altering all of his billing statements for the purpose of trial."

"If the billing statements were accurate when submitted, and when they were paid, why would there ever be a need to alter all of them, in order to submit them to the court?" asked Beacham.

In May, a CBS Atlanta investigation exposed a shocking lack of oversight of guardians ad litem in Georgia. 

According to a document filed in the custody case, Drutman and Holmes recommended the custody switch because they said the mother was subconsciously "re-victimizing" her daughter by not letting her progress past the abuse.

The father was arrested in 2009 and 2011 in Fulton County and Colorado, respectively. Charges in both states were dropped due to insufficient physical evidence, according to court documents filed in the custody case.

Those records also said five separate assessments supported the girl's "outcries" of sexual molestation. 

In his first 10 months on the case, Drutman, a psychologist, charged the family $27,406.25.

According to a document filed by the mother's attorney, Drutman had no "significant specialized training in assessing or treating cases of sexual abuse."

Drutman did not return messages left by Chirico. When questioned at his Roswell office, Drutman closed the door and wouldn't explain his fees or his custody recommendation. 

According to an email, Holmes charged $133,000.89 for a year's work on the case. He indicated in the email that he had only received $59,586.94, and netted $43,879.96 as of April 22. 

Holmes also refused to talk to Chirico about his fees, or his custody decision. 

Beacham said she wonders whether money influenced the decision.

"[The father and his attorney] brought on the right custody experts to manage the case, make the case more layered and complicated, so everybody's making a lot of money by sitting on the evidence," said Beacham. 

Goger's judicial assistant said the judge had no comment. 

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