Juvenile court abused its discretion by refusing to allow public defender (PD) to represent a qualified juvenile ward absent a showing that the accused was not indigent or a conflict existed. Joshua was the subject of juvenile delinquency proceedings based on a number of petitions filed over the course of three years. On the first two petitions filed in the Eastlake District, the public defender (PD) declared a conflict and private counsel was appointed. By the time a third petition was filed in Compton, the conflict no longer existed and the PD assumed representation. On the fourth and fifth petitions, filed in Eastlake District, the PD appeared for Joshua at his request but was disqualified by the trial court, which found Joshua was entitled to the continuous representation of the conflict attorney. The PD sought a writ of mandate directing the trial court to reinstate the PD as counsel. Held: Granted. The PD is required to decide whom to represent and this duty extends to juvenile proceedings. (Gov. Code, § 27706, subds. (a), (e) & (g); Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 634, 700.) The PD exercises an original power coequal with the power of the court to make the initial determination whether a person is entitled to the PD’s representation. The PD must render services to the indigent accused until such time as the court makes a contrary determination the person is not indigent or a conflict exists. Additionally, the trial court is required to first utilize the PD’s services for qualified persons unless there is a conflict or the PD is unavailable. (Gov. Code, § 27706; Pen. Code, § 987.2.) Here, the PD became Joshua’s proper counsel when Joshua requested that the PD represent him and the PD determined he was indigent. Because there was no showing that Joshua was not indigent or that a conflict existed, the juvenile court had no power to remove the PD.
Although the indigent minor was represented by conflict counsel in previous delinquency proceedings, it was proper for the PD to re-evaluate the minor’s situation when a subsequent petition was filed and provide representation when the conflict no longer existed. The PD is required to render legal services, upon request, to a qualified juvenile who has been declared a ward and represented in other proceedings by private counsel. Here, in disqualifying the PD from representing Joshua on the third and fourth petitions, the juvenile court found that he was entitled to “continuous representation” by conflict counsel who represented him on earlier petitions and that two attorneys appearing for Joshua would be improper. There is no “continuity of representation” exception to the requirement the PD represent indigent defendants upon request and the trial court is obligated to first utilize the PD’s services. It would not be improper for private counsel to represent Joshua on an earlier petition while the PD provides representation as to later petitions.