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Name: In re S.M.
Case #: D060733
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/05/2012

Juvenile court improperly considered SSI benefits in determining a parent’s ability to pay for appointed counsel in dependency proceeding. San Diego County asked for an order to pay for cost of legal services incurred by mother in a juvenile court dependency proceeding. Mother requested a hearing on the matter after a financial evaluation officer found an ability to pay. At the hearing, mother appeared without counsel and said that she could not afford to pay because SSI was her only income. The juvenile court ordered her to pay $20 month. On appeal, mother argued first that the juvenile court erred by failing to advise her of her right to counsel and implying that she had no right to counsel. The appellate court rejected this argument, finding that mother received written notice of her rights and she did not invoke them. However, the juvenile court erred when it considered mother’s SSI benefits in determining her ability to pay legal costs. Therefore, remand was required for a new hearing.