SPECIAL REPORT: Guardian ad litem accused by parent of improper billing

Weinberger accused by parent of improper billing as guardian

AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - Another Augusta Judicial Circuit guardian ad litem is the target of accusations of wrongdoing for her work on a child custody case here in our area.

Now, a Columbia County parent said he plans to sue her for her work on his case.

Guardian ad litem Janet Weinberger - who has been in the circuit for a number of years - is one of the deciding factors when a judge rules on custody. She's supposed to make a recommendation in the best interest of the children, but the parent we spoke to said she damaged his family instead.

Weinberger - who won't face our cameras - didn't have much to say during an August encounter in the courthouse parking lot about the allegations a local father - Robbie Roberson - said jeopardized his daughter's well-being.

It's a story we've been investigating since March – allegations that Janet Weinberger over-billed clients – and today, Roberson said, he's taking the fight back to court.

"We're looking at trying to do a different type of lawsuit against Janet, maybe a class action, just gotta wait and see – right now, I've retained an attorney and we're waiting on him to move forward from here," Roberson said.

Roberson said it all started with a January 2013 order from Judge Michael Annis appointing Weinberger as guardian ad litem on his custody case.

"She was on the case 10 months, I received one bill from her," Roberson said. "And that bill has a lot of errors."

One bill? The order appointing Weinberger to this case compelled her to send a bill for every single month she was on the case.

But this father said the bill, dated October 28, 2013, didn't add up.

"Every time Janet Weinberger called me, which was 41 times, I was charged a $13 fee," Roberson said. "So half went to my wife at the time, and half went to me."

According to Judge Annis' order, Weinberger could charge $65 an hour. That means, she was billing 12 minutes for each no-answer phone call.

But Roberson said that's not the most outrageous charge on the $845 bill.

"Janet Weinberger indicated she spoke with all the teachers involving my daughter and my step-daughter," Roberson said.

According to Roberson, the teachers said otherwise.

"I have emailed all the teachers, and in their responses, they indicate they did not talk with Janet Weinberger at all," Roberson said.

Roberson provided WFXG copies of those emails and their responses, in which the teachers appear to have said they never spoke to or met with Weinberger.

Now, back to those $13 phone calls.

The charges for what Roberson said were calls that were never made totaled $162.50 – just on the October bill.

But then, this father said, another bill surfaced when he tried to contest the charges.

"She got really upset, and 20 days later I received a bill for $1453.08," Roberson said.

The new bill, dated November 21, 2013 – suddenly included countless more charges that allegedly were incurred before the October bill was sent.

Roberson said he had had enough, but when he brought the issues up to Judge Annis, he says his concerns fell on deaf ears – even though the judge's order states "if either party feels the guardian's bill is unreasonable, they can address the issue by motion and hearing or by conference."

"Judge Annis' comment was, since Janet Weinberger made an effort to call me, I was responsible for paying it," Roberson said.

So we contacted Judge Annis ourselves.

In an e-mail, he said it was his policy not to comment on cases that are active or pending appeal.

WFXG has also received other complaints about billing issues involving Weinberger's work.

But those litigants didn't want to go on camera to discuss their issues.

Our next stop for answers was Janet Weinberger herself, but she didn't return our phone calls.

So we tried to bring our questions to Weinberger in person following an after-hours meeting of select guardians ad litem in Judge David Roper's chambers.

WFXG's Nick Lulli: "I've been trying to get in touch with you. Mind if I ask you a few questions?"

Weinberger replied, "I do mind!"

Weinberger quickly ducked into her vehicle, evading my questions.

Since my encounter with Weinberger in the courthouse parking lot, we tried to reach her again for comment on the Roberson case. She texted me and said the judges prohibit her from discussing cases on which she is a guardian ad litem. We also tried again to reach her for comment after reports that Roberson plans to sue her, but have yet to hear back.

Senator Jesse Stone is also now weighing in. He said he was not familiar with these specific complaints, but assured us - he will look into the matter and see if new laws are needed - or if the existing laws which govern the family court system just need to be tightened.

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