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Name: In re M.F.
Case #: C056735
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 03/28/2008

Reversal was required where the mother, herself a minor, was not appointed a guardian ad litem. Mother appealed from an order terminating her parental rights, contending that the juvenile court erred by failing to appoint her a guardian ad litem (GAL) until after her reunification services were terminated and the 366.26 hearing was pending. The appellate court agreed and reversed. Mother was only 14 years old at the time the dependency petition was filed. The juvenile court’s sua sponte duty in a dependency proceeding to appoint a GAL for a party it deems incompetent must extend to a parent who is a minor. Although the error was not jurisdictional, it was not harmless, and reversal was required. Mother’s rights were compromised at key hearings as a result of the failure to appoint a GAL. For example a GAL would have been required to contest jurisdiction, where mother waived her right to a hearing. Examination of the entire record reveals that failure to appoint a GAL for mother resulted in a miscarriage of justice, requiring a return to “square one.”