In re Charlisse C., No. B194568.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtMosk
Citation149 Cal.App.4th 1554,58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173
PartiesIn re CHARLISSE C., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. Department of Children and Family Services, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Shadonna C., Defendant and Respondent; Children's Law Center, Objector and Appellant.
Decision Date23 April 2007
Docket NumberNo. B194568.
58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173
149 Cal.App.4th 1554
In re CHARLISSE C., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.
Department of Children and Family Services, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Shadonna C., Defendant and Respondent;
Children's Law Center, Objector and Appellant.
No. B194568.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5.
April 23, 2007.

[58 Cal.Rptr.3d 177]

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Rex S. Heinke and Seth M.M. Stodder, Los Angeles, for Objector and Appellant.

Raymond G. Fortner, Jr., Los Angeles County Counsel, Peter Ferrera, Assistant County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

John L. Dodd & Associates and John L. Dodd, Tustin; John Cahill, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Respondent and Minor.

[58 Cal.Rptr.3d 178]

MOSK, J.


INTRODUCTION

The Children's Law Center of Los Angeles (the Center) appeals from an order of the juvenile court disqualifying the Center from representing Charlisse C. (child), a child in a dependency proceeding. The motion to disqualify was filed by child's mother, Shadonna C. (mother), age 19, a former client of the Center. The juvenile court disqualified the Center on the ground that the Center had violated the safeguards against conflicts of interest in concurrent representations approved by the Courts of Appeal in Castro v. Los Angeles County Bd. of Supervisors (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 1432, 1435-1445, 284 Cal. Rptr. 154 (Castro ) and People v. Christian (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 986, 991-1002, 48 Cal.Rptr.2d 867 (Christian). This court reverses the disqualification order.

The Center is a publicly funded, nonprofit law office that represents parties in the Los Angeles County Juvenile Dependency Court. The Center is organized into three units, which are intended to function as independent law firms for conflict of interest purposes. The Center's Unit 1 (or its predecessor) represented mother when she was a foster child in the dependency system. From 2002 to 2005, Unit 2 represented child's older sibling, who was adopted by a grandparent. In this case, Unit 3 undertook to represent child when the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) filed a juvenile dependency petition, pursuant to section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code,1 concerning child. An attorney appointed to represent mother in the dependency proceeding asserted a conflict of interest, claiming that Unit 3 should be disqualified from representing child in this proceeding due to alleged breaches in ethical screens established within the Center between Units 1, 2, and 3. The alleged breaches occurred several years ago, and there is no evidence that any such breaches involved information concerning the parties in this case.

In this case involving successive representations, past breaches in the Center's ethical screens do not require disqualification of child's attorney when mother has failed to demonstrate a reasonable possibility that confidential information relating to Unit 1's prior representation of mother would be shared with or be readily accessible to child's current attorney in Unit 3. Under these circumstances, knowledge of confidential information about mother need not be imputed to child's attorney.

Contrary to the test employed by the juvenile court, the issue raised by mother's motion to disqualify the Center is not whether the Center's recent administrative reorganization and the other conduct attributed to the Center and its director gave rise to the "appearance" of a conflict of interest. Nor is the issue, as seemingly considered by the juvenile court, whether the Center's reorganization and other conduct, in the abstract, strictly adhered to the specific safeguards approved by the court in Castro, supra, 232 Cal.App.3d 1432, 284 Cal.Rptr. 154.

Rather, mother's motion for disqualification raises the issue of whether, in the circumstances of this case, there is a conflict of interest that requires the disqualification of child's attorney. Unlike Castro, supra, 232 Cal.App.3d 1432, 284 Cal.Rptr. 154, and Christian, supra, 41 Cal.App.4th 986, 48 Cal.Rptr.2d 867—both of which

58 Cal.Rptr.3d 179

involved the concurrent representation of clients with conflicting interests—this case involves the successive representation of clients with conflicting interests. Thus, whether there is a disqualifying conflict in this case turns on whether it is reasonably likely that confidential information relating to mother's prior representation by the Center's Unit 1 would be shared with or be readily accessible to child's current attorney in the Center's Unit 3. (See Jessen v. Hartford Casualty Ins. Co. (2003) 111 Cal. App.4th 698, 710, 3 Cal.Rptr.3d 877 (Jessen) ["where the former attorney-client relationship is peripheral or attenuated instead of direct, then the presumption [that the attorney acquired confidential client information] will not be applied in the absence of an adequate showing that the attorney was in a position vis-agrave;-vis the client to likely have acquired confidential information material to the current representation"].) The record in this case does not support the juvenile court's conclusion that disqualification is required. Furthermore, because the juvenile court disqualified the Center based entirely on "structural" factors that bear no relation to any particular, identifiable case, affirming the juvenile court's order in this case would, in effect, require the unwarranted disqualification of the Center in virtually every case involving either the concurrent representation of multiple siblings or the successive representation of a parent or sibling and a child.2

BACKGROUND

The County of Los Angeles created the Center, formerly called Dependency Court Legal Services (DCLS), to provide legal services to parents and children in the dependency court, and specifically to provide representation when legal services are required under section 317. Effective July

1, 2005, such legal services are provided by the Center pursuant to a contract with the Administrative Offices of the Courts (the "2005 Agreement").

Prior to July 1, 2005, DCLS operated under an agreement with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (the "1990 Agreement") that required DCLS to maintain a structure that permitted up to three independent attorneys to be assigned to represent different parties in the same proceeding, without giving rise to a disqualifying conflict of interest. To the extent relevant here, the 1990 Agreement required DCLS to maintain an operating structure as follows: "1. [DCLS] staff attorneys (i.e. those actually providing representation in dependency court proceedings) must be organized into three separate offices of comparable quality. [¶] 2. Each office shall have its own separate administrator. Each office administrator shall be the attorney of record on all cases assigned to his or her office, with the staff attorneys assigned to that office serving as deputies or assistants. Each office administrator shall be responsible for all legal representation provided by the attorneys in his or her office and shall have full case management authority over all cases assigned to that office. [¶] 3. Each office shall maintain separate case files. No staff attorney shall have access to the case files of an office other than the one to which he or she is assigned, and no corporate officer or director shall have access to any case files. [¶] 4. Attorneys may not be transferred between offices. [¶] 5.

58 Cal.Rptr.3d 180
DCLS's] corporate officers and directors shall serve in an administrative capacity only and shall not participate in any way in the representation of individuals in dependency court proceedings. They shall not consult with staff attorneys, including office administrators, about individual cases, except to review performance after the matter has been completed. [¶] 6. Staff attorneys (including office administrators) shall not hold any corporate officer or director positions with [DCLS]. [¶] 7. [DCLS's] corporate officers shall promote, discipline, or dismiss a staff attorney only upon the recommendation of that attorney's office administrator. Corporate officers shall be responsible for hiring staff attorneys and for assigning them to offices in such a manner as to maintain the comparable quality of the three offices. [¶] 8. [DCLS's] corporate officers and directors may participate in the training of staff attorneys and office administrators, but such training shall be provided on an equal basis to the attorneys in the three offices. [¶] 9. Each office administrator shall establish and promulgate a procedure to receive and resolve complaints."

The 2005 Agreement changed the Center's operating structure insofar as conflicts of interest are concerned. Section B.2 of the 2005 Agreement provides, "[The Center] will ensure that conflicts are declared after appointment only when an actual conflict exists and shall similarly accept new appointments consistent with conflict rules and law. [¶] 1. New Appointments: [¶] [The Center] shall establish procedures to check for conflicts of interest, and shall decline appointment of new clients who present a conflict of interest with their present clients. [¶] 2. Ongoing Clients: [¶] [The Center] shall establish procedures to determine whether actual conflicts of interest arise among current clients, including within sibling groups, and shall advise the Court when such conflicts arise and seek to be relieved of appointment in such cases, when and if required by law."

On July 26, 2006, the DCFS, which is not a party to this appeal, filed a juvenile dependency petition concerning child. The petition alleged that child, born in July 2006, was at substantial risk of being abused or neglected because of the 19-year-old mother's emotional and mental health problems. The petition further alleged that in January 2002, at the age of 14, mother gave birth to child's older sibling, Donna C, who...

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6 practice notes
  • In re Zamer G., No. B194885.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 10, 2007
    ...in the same proceeding, legal representation to multiple clients who might have conflicts of interest.1 In In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, 58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173 (Charlisse) and In re Jasmine S. (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 297, 61 Cal.Rptr .3d 256 (Jasmine), we reversed the juvenile ......
  • Sharp v. Next Entertainment Inc., No. B194374.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 28, 2008
    ...former private attorney into public sector)."].) The California Supreme Court has recently granted review in In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554 [58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173], review granted July 18, 2007, S152822, to address the standard to control disqualification of counsel from legal ......
  • In re Zamer G., B194885 (Cal. App. 7/31/2007), B194885
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 31, 2007
    ...the alleged breaches of the Center's ethical screens relied upon by the juvenile court to disqualify the Center in Charlisse, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, review granted July 18, 2007, S152822, either had been remedied before these proceedings commenced in June 2006, or were trivial in natu......
  • In re Jasmine S., No. B194714.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 19, 2007
    ...in dependency proceedings because of purported conflicts of interests (conflicts). In the first appeal, In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, 58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173 (Charlisse), this court reversed the order disqualifying the Center in a case involving a purported conflict arising fro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • In re Zamer G., No. B194885.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 10, 2007
    ...in the same proceeding, legal representation to multiple clients who might have conflicts of interest.1 In In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, 58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173 (Charlisse) and In re Jasmine S. (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 297, 61 Cal.Rptr .3d 256 (Jasmine), we reversed the juvenile ......
  • Sharp v. Next Entertainment Inc., No. B194374.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 28, 2008
    ...former private attorney into public sector)."].) The California Supreme Court has recently granted review in In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554 [58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173], review granted July 18, 2007, S152822, to address the standard to control disqualification of counsel from legal ......
  • In re Zamer G., B194885 (Cal. App. 7/31/2007), B194885
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 31, 2007
    ...the alleged breaches of the Center's ethical screens relied upon by the juvenile court to disqualify the Center in Charlisse, supra, 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, review granted July 18, 2007, S152822, either had been remedied before these proceedings commenced in June 2006, or were trivial in natu......
  • In re Jasmine S., No. B194714.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 19, 2007
    ...in dependency proceedings because of purported conflicts of interests (conflicts). In the first appeal, In re Charlisse C. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1554, 58 Cal.Rptr.3d 173 (Charlisse), this court reversed the order disqualifying the Center in a case involving a purported conflict arising fro......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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