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Name: In re Celine R.
Case #: S111138
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/07/2003
Subsequent History: None
Summary

In this case the California Supreme Court granted review to resolve two important issues: 1) the scope of the the “sibling exception” to adoption (Welf. & Inst. Code, sec. 366.26, subd. (c)(1)(E)) and 2) the responsibility of the juvenile court to appoint a different minor’s counsel who wishes a different permanent plan than does another minor currently represented by that attorney. Here, services were terminated as to Crystal, age 10, Celine, age 5, and Angel, age 4. A plan of long term foster care was approved as to Crystal, but the social worker recommended termination of parental rights as to Celine and Angel. At the hearing, counsel appointed to represent all three minors noted concerns that Crystal was hurt and saddened by not receiving visits with the other two minors. The attorney requested the court consider a bonding study for the minors and appointment of separate counsel for Crystal. The court denied the request and terminated parental rights. The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not err in declining to find the sibling exception. Although the court may consider the relationships among the minors, its ultimate consideration is only of the detriment to the children who are being considered for adoption, in this case Celine and Angel. Also, the Supreme Court found harmless any decision not to appoint separate counsel for Crystal. The standard for the juvenile court for appointment of counsel for the children is that separate counsel will not have to be appointed for each child unless an actual conflict is apparent, or case-specific facts show a reasonable likelihood of a conflict (citing Cal. Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-310). The Court here did not address the question of whether there was a reasonable likelihood of a conflict, because any error was harmless. In examining the prejudice due to a conflict of interest, the reviewing court will not speculate as to possible prejudice as it would in a criminal case under People v. Mrozcko (1983) 35 Cal.3d 86 (disapproving In re Patricia E. (1985) 174 Cal.App.3d 1). The Court suggested the use of an emergency writ as a more appropriate remedy for a juvenile court’s ruling denying separate counsel for the minor. Justice Moreno concurred, but would have found trial court error in not appointing separate counsel for Crystal.