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Supreme Court Rejects Child Rights Appeal

Posted by Sean A. Black | Mar 05, 2013 | 0 Comments

In juvenile cases, it has become somewhat common for a guardian ad litem to be appointed for a child and for  an attorney to be appointed for the child.

In this context , a guardian ad litem is charged with making legal decisions for a person who is not legally authorized to make those decisions.  The guardian is the "legal protector of the child's best interests in a deprivation proceeding."

The attorney is appointed to represents the child and act at the child's direction.

In some cases, it is possible for there to be a conflict between what the child wants and what the guardian ad litem thinks that the child needs.  Such a case is In the Interest of W.L.H., a child, 314 Ga. App. 185 (March 4, 2013).

WLH had been in the custody of a first cousin from the time that he was 17 months old.  At the time the case arose, he was twelve.years old.  The case arose because his cousin/guardian admitted to DFCS that she had struck the child and left bruises.  DFCS filed the deprivation proceeding.

At the hearing, the child was excluded from much of the proceedings, including all of the evidence.  His attorney objected to this decision and filed a motion to allow the child to be present for the evidence.  This was denied.  The child maintained that such was a denial of his due process rights under the state and federal constitutions.

The juvenile court proceeded with the hearing and found the child deprived and committed to a state institution.  Neither the cousin/guardian nor the guardian ad litem appealed that finding.  The child, through his court-appointed lawyer appealed the decision.

The Georgia Supreme Court held, however, that the child was not an appropriate person to appeal the finding that he was deprived and should be removed from his cousin's care.  It found that the authority for legal decisions regarding what is in the child's best interests is vested in the guardian ad litem and that the child has no standing or right to assert a position in the case or appeal the court's rulings.

If the child believes that the guardian ad litem is not acting properly, the appropriate action is for the child to seek the guardian ad litem's removal by the Juvenile Court.

The Supreme Court's finding goes against the positions argued by the American Bar Association and the state CASA organization.   The idea is that there should be some mechanism for consideration of the child's wishes in the matter.

About the Author

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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