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Name: Conservatorship of John L.
Case #: S157151
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 02/25/2010

The court was entitled to rely on the attorney’s representation that the client did not want to be present and did not oppose conservatorship. Prior to a hearing to establish an LPS conservatorship, a report prepared by the conservatorship investigator stated that John made it clear he did not want a conservator and did not need assistance. However, at the hearing, John’s appointed counsel informed the court that John did not want to be present and did not contest the conservatorship. Relying on that information, the court excused John’s presence and granted the petition, appointing a conservator. On appeal, John contended that his rights were violated when the superior court proceeded with the hearing in his absence and ordered the conservatorship without any admissible evidence that he knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appear at the hearing. The appellate court affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted review to determine whether a violation occurred when the superior court excused John’s absence based on his counsel’s representations and whether the court nonetheless deprived him of due process in establishing the conservatorship as it did. The Court concluded that the superior court did not deprive John of due process when it established the conservatorship in his absence. The value of requiring an unwilling conservatee to appear is too slight to justify its adoption as part of the conservatorship process, and would effectively render his right to waive presence and a trial meaningless. Even though certain rights implicated in civil proceedings are substantial, they may be waived by an attorney with the client’s express consent. In the absence of any contrary indication, the superior court may assume that an attorney is competent and fully communicates with the proposed conservatee about the proceeding.