The role of a court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) is critical in our legal system – providing independent representation on behalf of the best interests of children and incapacitated adults in various legal proceedings. These advocates serve as a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves – particularly in cases involving child custody, divorce, child abuse, neglect or cases in which individuals are unable to advocate for their own rights due to some sort of incapacity.
However, a recent arrest in the South Carolina Upstate highlights the potential for this authority to be abused. Lisa Marvel, a non-attorney GAL based in Greenville, S.C., is facing felony charges for the unauthorized practice of law. Her arrest comes following an investigation by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) – an inquiry shedding light on the vulnerability of those the legal system is meant to protect.
Marvel was arrested on Monday (November 6, 2023). She was booked at the Greenville County detention center and released after posting a $5,000 surety bond.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Marvel has served as a private guardian ad litem since 2014. She also claims to be a “legal coach” and is actively seeking “legal specialist roles.” Among the skills Marvel listed on her resume were case analysis, settlement negotiation and client representation – essentially presenting herself as a sort of legal consultant specializing in family court cases.
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According to the S.C. Code of Laws, it is unlawful to “assume to be entitled to practice law or to assume, use, or advertise the title of lawyer, attorney, attorney at law or equivalent terms in any language as to convey the impression that it is entitled to practice law or to furnish legal advice, services, or counsel.”
The investigation into Marvel began when a Greenville-area mom, Amber Arnold, met her during a contentious custody battle with her ex-wife. While Marvel was not officially working as a GAL for the proceedings, she offered her services as a consultant to ensure their appointed GAL was doing their job appropriately – and to provide guidance.
Arnold hired Marvel because her qualifications on paper were good and she was in the middle of an acrimonious fight for her child – which placed her in a very vulnerable position.
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Arnold routinely paid invoices submitted by Marvel which often totaled between $2000 and $3000 a month. Marvel’s hourly rate was $200 and she structured her invoices similar to a lawyer. She also itemized her activities including editing affidavits and preparing responses to defense or rebuttals to GAL complaints.
All very “lawyer-y”…
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Eventually, Arnold began to question Marvel’s qualifications – and when her attorney discovered she was paying Marvel for legal consulting services, he advised her to cease all contact and payments. Marvel responded by filing a civil complaint with the Greenville County Court citing lack of payment.
Arnold – representing herself – filed a response.
In May of 2023, Marvel sent Arnold an email telling her to pay the balance … or else.
As you are aware, I have attempted tirelessly to collect what you have acknowledged that you owe (see attached), per our contract for legal services.
Because you have ignored my attempts to settle your debt, you left me no other choice but to file a civil action in the amount of $5,078.40.
The next step, in this unfortunate process, will be a signed judgement(sic) from the Sherriff’s (sic) Office to seize your real property, according to Title 15-Chapter 39-Executions and Judicial Sales.
In addition, your credit will be negatively impacted, and all information will be made public. I am willing to stop this process if you decide to pay $5,078.40 on or before Monday June 5th, 2023 in the form of a cashiers check issued by a banking institution.
If you decide to not comply with my generous and patient offer, I will proceed with aiding and assisting the numerous other professionals that are seeking to collect unpaid debts incurred by you. I have spoken with several local professionals who are also planning to pursue judgements and liens, which will be filed against you as an individual, and a business owner.
Please be advised that I have correspondence from you regarding detailed financial information that may be in direct conflict with what you have reported to the IRS for the last several years.
I am also prepared to testify under oath regarding the basis for your litigation against Ajeshia Marquez, which will be documented as a public record.
As a last resort, I am prepared to exercise my First Amendment right with the press, social media platforms, and any other means that will support my public disappointment with your lack of integrity, breach of contract, and unpaid debt that you feel entitled to ignore.
Looking forward to your decision,
Guardian ad Litem
While this email was full of threatening language, the most concerning portion to Arnold was Marvel’s statement that she was “prepared to testify under oath regarding the basis for your litigation against Ajeshia Marquez, which will be documented as a public record.”
This statement carried with it the implicit threat that if Arnold did not pay Marvel, she would testify in a manner that could sabotage her court case. In this context, the act of leveraging testimony that could impact the outcome of a custody case – in which the stakes involve the well-being of a minor child – could very well be viewed as a coercive and unlawful form of extortion.
On June 3, 2023, Arnold filed a complaint with the South Carolina Bar – which reviewed the evidence submitted. On September 13, 2023, the bar sent a letter to S.C. thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins informing him it had voted to refer the matter to his office for investigation.
Wilkins immediately engaged GCSO to conduct the official investigation – which ultimately led to Marvel’s formal charges earlier this week.
Arnold has retained Greenville-based attorney Brandi Hinton to represent her moving forward.
“We appreciate law enforcement taking this matter seriously,” Hinton said. “Anyone who’s going to take advantage of someone in a highly vulnerable position such as a family court case should be prosecuted for that conduct.”
Despite Marvel’s arrest, many questions remain unanswered. It’s unknown if additional charges – such as extortion or fraud – will be filed against her. It is also unclear whether she will be allowed to continue serving as a GAL while this case makes its way through the legal system.
Also, are there others who were subjected to similar conduct?
Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to call GCSO at (864) 271-5210.
As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Marvel is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as she may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against her.
Count on this media outlet to keep our audience up to speed on the latest developments as Marvel’s case advances. Also, we would encourage anyone who believes they have been taken advantage of in a manner similar to what Arnold has alleged Marvel has done to her to contact our media outlet ([email protected]) and share their story.
THE CIVIL SUIT …
(Via: S.C. Thirteenth Circuit)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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