Danielle Ross failed to report income she received from parents while working as guardian ad litem for Lackawanna County Family Court, according to a grand jury indictment filed in Scranton. Prosecutors said Ross charged parents $50 an hour but didn't report that income on her 2009 and 2010 tax returns.
The 37-year-old attorney from Jermyn was charged with two counts of tax evasion and two counts of filing a false income tax return. A message left with her attorney Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Under the law, a guardian ad litem may be appointed to represent the best interests of a child in family court. The guardian may meet with the child, review documents, interview witnesses and make recommendations about custody to a judge.
Ross, Lackawanna County's sole guardian starting in 2008, was paid an annual retainer of $38,000. As an independent contractor, she was permitted to supplement her income by billing parents directly.
"Ross allegedly managed and exercised complete control over her private billings and income. That income was allegedly known only to Ross and not Lackawanna County, nor was Lackawanna County required to approve Ross's private billings," according to a news release issued by U.S.
Parents have claimed that Ross wielded far too much power over their daily lives. Some beleaguered moms and dads told The Associated Press last year that she billed them hundreds or thousands of dollars for services they didn't want—and hauled them into court if they paid late—while bragging she had the final word on decisions involving their children.
Spurred by the complaints, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts—the state court system's administrative arm—performed a yearlong review of the guardian ad litem program and issued a 113-page report last summer that said the program needed additional oversight, including better tracking of payments made by parents amid custody disputes. The review did not find that Ross over-billed parents.
Lackawanna County has said it's implementing the changes recommended in the report.
Lackawanna County President Judge Thomas Munley referred media inquiries about Ross to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which did not immediately comment.
Ross also faces a pending civil suit filed by a disgruntled father.