SCRANTON – A Moscow man involved in a custody dispute has filed a federal lawsuit against Lackawanna County Court, alleging the court system allowed a guardian appointed to represent his son to run roughshod over the man's constitutional rights.
Dr. Michael Stefanov alleges attorney Danielle Ross, a court-appointed guardian ad litem, abused her authority, allowing her to rack up thousands of dollars in fees for conducting unnecessary evaluations and home visits.
Stefanov also takes aim at the court system, which he says created a policy that resulted in the appointment of a guardian in virtually all custody cases, despite a state Superior Court decision that says a guardian should be appointed only in "extraordinary circumstances."
The suit, filed Friday by attorney Paul Cianci of Huntingdon Valley, comes several months after federal authorities subpoenaed records from the family court division seeking information on payments that were made to Ross.
A guardian ad litem is a person, usually an attorney, appointed to represent the interest of a child, independent of their parents.
Guardians are most commonly appointed in abuse and neglect cases involving Children and Youth, but a judge can appoint a guardian in a private custody if it's believed the action is in the child's "best interest."
In private cases, parents are required to pay a fee to the guardian for their services, regardless if they agree the appointment of a guardian was necessary.
In his suit, Stefanov contends he paid Ross more than $9,000 over a several-year period that she was involved in a custody dispute between himself and his ex-wife.
According to the suit, Ross coerced Stefanov into abiding by every recommendation she made, regardless of whether it was reasonable, by threatening he would lose visitation if he refused.
Stefanov claims he was also forced to provide private medical records regarding himself and his son, despite his objections. The court system provided no meaningful review as it routinely "rubber stamped" Ross' recommendation, he says.
Ross has served as guardian ad litem for Lackawanna County since 2008. She could not be reached for comment Friday.