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Name: People v. Wilkinson
Case #: F057537
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/09/2010

A person facing civil commitment, based on mental retardation and dangerousness to herself and others pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500, has a right to be present at the hearing. The potential loss of liberty entitles the person to substantial procedural safeguards similar to a criminal defendant. Appointed counsel waived the client’s presence, without consulting with her and against her expressed desire to be present. The attorney’s authority to control procedural matters in a civil case does not authorize the relinquishment of substantial rights, such as the right to be present, without the client’s consent. The court could not think of a more blatant violation of the client’s right to due process than what occurred here. The error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and the judgment was reversed. Though the one year commitment was expired, the court exercised discretion to hear the case because the issue is a recurring one which is likely to evade review. The merits were addressed over the People’s argument that the issue was moot because the commitment is subject to an annual review. There is a right to appeal a civil commitment and a right to appointed counsel on appeal. The People further contended that because Wilkinson was mentally retarded she was incompetent to appeal from the commitment order and that she was not entitled to appointed counsel on appeal. The court found these two contentions were unsupported by authority or logic.