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Name: In re Claudia S.
Case #: D045602
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 07/21/2005

Mother took her minor children to Mexico when she learned that the Department intended to file petitions based on their exposure to domestic violence. The juvenile court conducted jurisdiction, disposition, six and twelve-month review hearings in their absence, in the absence of the father, and without appointing counsel. After the family came back to California a year later, the juvenile court ordered the children into foster care and ordered reunification services even though there had been no recent incidents of domestic violence. On appeal, mother and father both argued that the court erred when it took jurisdiction of the children in their absence. Mother argued that the court should have dismissed jurisdiction when she returned because there was no current risk of harm to the minors. Father also argued that the court erred in conducting proceedings without counsel. The Agency argued that the disentitlement doctrine precluded the court from hearing the appeals. The appellate court found that the disentitlement doctrine was not applicable because mother left with the children before petitions were ever filed. Further, it held that the absence of the family and counsel under the circumstances of this case rendered the proceedings fundamentally unfair, and reversal was required. The court should have waited to conduct the hearings until after the minors and their parents appeared and had counsel to advocate on their behalf, which would have provided access to the facts relevant to the current situation. Pursuing the proceedings in the absence of the family failed to serve the best interests of the minors and resulted in unnecessary expense to the state.