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Name: In re Jaclyn S.
Case #: A114754
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 04/25/2007
Subsequent History: Review grant & hold: 7/18/07 (S153178)

Although the trial court erred when it appointed a guardian ad litem for mother, there was no prejudice caused by the appointment, and therefore reversal was not required. The minor here was detained at birth from his homeless and mentally ill mother. At counsel’s request, mother was appointed a guardian ad litem because both counsel and the social worker expressed concerns as to whether mother understood and could participate in the proceedings. Mother agreed to the appointment, but did not receive a clear explanation of the consequences of such an appointment. The record did not establish that mother lacked the capacity to understand the proceedings or assist in her defense. In an appeal from the termination of her parental rights, the appellate court held that the appointment of a guardian ad litem was error. However, the appointment had very little impact on mother’s ability to direct or participate in the litigation. The guardian ad litem made every effort to include mother in the proceedings, and the record shows that every reasonable action was taken to protect the rights of mother. The appellate court disagreed that the error was structural, and was unwilling to presume the existence of prejudice because the guardian ad litem failed to produce evidence helpful to mother’s cause. Although there may be cases where appointment of a guardian ad litem has the effect of denying a parent due process, this was not one of them. The error here was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.