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Name: In re William M.W. et al
Case #: A156489
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 12/17/2019

Although the juvenile court is not mandated to order discovery at no cost to parents in dependency proceedings, it has the discretion to do so where an indigent parent’s meaningful access to the judicial process would otherwise be impaired. Prior to a contested hearing on a six-month review, parents’ attorneys filed a motion to compel discovery, seeking a juvenile court order that copies of relevant discovery be provided to them at no cost. The Agency opposed the motion, arguing that discovery was available under the usual protocol: parents could view the material and request copies at the rate of .10 per page or otherwise copy the documents themselves. Parents’ counsel asserted that due process and equal protection required free discovery. The juvenile court denied the discovery motion, stating that no law authorized the order requested. The appellate court held that disclosure obligations may be satisfied by allowing parents to inspect and copy discoverable materials. An open file procedure which the Agency offered comports with due process. However, the juvenile court misunderstood the scope of its powers, believing it did not have the authority to make the requested discovery order. Under appropriate circumstances, the juvenile court may make a discovery order that results in incidental additional costs to the Agency. For example, it may make such an order where denying the discovery without cost would result in the parent not otherwise having access to the material. Since the court did not exercise its discretion in the first instance, remand was required to allow the juvenile court the opportunity to do so.