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Name: Conservatorship of T.B. (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 1361
Case #: A167919
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/27/2024

The time limit for starting conservatorship trials under amended Welfare and Institutions Code section 5350, is directory, not mandatory, and dismissal for the failure to comply with the time limit is therefore discretionary. The Public Guardian’s Office filed a petition under the LPS Act for appointment of a conservatorship for T.B. (§ 5350.) T.B. requested a trial to determine whether she was gravely disabled. Trial was originally set within the 10 days required by section 5350. T.B.’s court trial actually began 171 days later on April 24, 2023. The trial court found T.B. was gravely disabled and appointed a conservatorship for one year beginning April 25, 2023. T.B. appealed. Held: Affirmed. Under amended section 5350(d)(2), the failure to commence trial within the required 10 days is “grounds for dismissal of the conservatorship proceedings.” A statute is mandatory if the failure to comply with the procedure has an invalidating effect, that is, if it deprives the trial court of jurisdiction; if not, the statute is directory. The fact that section 5350(d)(2) does not include a self-executing consequence for noncompliance suggests that the time limit is directory, which is consistent with the prior juridical interpretation of the statute. Dismissal is therefore discretionary. Here, the trial court abused its discretion where it found good cause based solely on judicial efficiency. However, reversal was not required because T.B. did not demonstrate prejudice from the delay, i.e., that she was denied a fair trial or that there was any error in the determination that she was gravely disabled.

It is not established whether the four-factor test  used to adjudicate speedy trial claims in criminal cases (Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514), is appropriate for evaluating due process claims in conservatorship trials under the LPS Act. The Courts of Appeal have uniformly borrowed the Barker framework to analyze due process violations caused by delay, weighing (1) the length of the delay, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right, and (4) the prejudice to defendant. However, T.B. failed to establish that the Barker factors are appropriate for evaluating due process claims based on delays in conservatorship trials. The analogy between criminal proceedings and proceedings under the LPS Act is imperfect at best and not all of the safeguards required in the former are appropriate to the latter. Even considering the factors, T.B. failed to show a due process violation where her counsel bore some responsibility for the delay, and T.B. failed to show that the delay had an impact on her ability to present her defense.