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Name: In re L.J.
Case #: C071919
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 05/31/2013

A referee’s order on reconsideration terminating parental rights was void because only a juvenile court judge had authority to rehear the case. Following termination of the parental rights of father and mother, both parents filed a notice of appeal (C071919). Father simultaneously moved for a rehearing or reconsideration of the order because the hearing proceeded in his absence despite his voice mail to the clerk advising he would be late. The referee granted the motion and set aside the order, but in a subsequent hearing, the referee made a new order terminating parental rights. Father alone filed a notice of appeal from that order (C072166). The appellate court requested briefing on the issue of mootness of the first order. The appellate court concluded that C071919 was not moot because the referee’s original order terminating parental rights was final and conclusive. Because all acts by the referee after that order were void for lack of jurisdiction, C071266 was dismissed. The Department argued that because the parents absconded with the minor and concealed her from the courts for over a year, they were disentitled to pursue this appeal. The appellate court rejected that argument, finding this case distinguishable from In re Kamelia S. (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 1224 in that the misconduct ended long before the appeal was filed. The original parental rights termination was final and conclusive because only a juvenile court judge has the authority to set aside a referee’s order terminating parental rights. Therefore the referee’s second order purporting to terminate parental rights was void. (The court reversed and remanded the case on an ICWA notice issue in an unpublished portion of the opinion in C071919.)