By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district declared yesterday that a judge abused her discretion in refusing to allow a woman, who had been caretaker for a two-year child since five days after his birth, to speak at a hearing to determine whether the child would be removed from her home.
Neither the woman’s failure to file an objection to the proposed removal nor the fact that she attempted to speak only after a ruling was made in favor of the removal excused the failure on the part of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debra Archuleta to hear from her, Acting Presiding Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes said in her unpublished opinion for Div. Eight.
The woman—designated as “A.R.”—was a prospect adoptive parent, as was her husband. They had received custody of “J.B.” after he was born with narcotics in his system; his ties to his natural parents were subsequently severed.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services determined that J.B. should be removed from his home based on injuries he and another child entrusted to A.R. and her husband had incurred in accidents, leading to its conclusion that their supervision had been negligent.
At the change-in-placement hearing—conducted via remote technology in light of the pandemic—A.R. was represented by counsel, but was online. After Archuleta determined that J.B. should be removed, A.R. blurted out:
Archuleta told her to mute her phone “or I am going to remove you from these proceedings.”
In announcing the issuance of a writ ordering that a new hearing be held at which A.R. has an opportunity to be heard, Grimes said:
“We are mindful that A.R. did not attempt to participate in the hearing until after the court had begun to state its findings and decision. We recognize that it is disruptive for a participant in a hearing to interrupt the court and disrupt proceedings. However, we cannot fault A.R. in this case, given that the hearing was conducted remotely because of the COVID-19 emergency; and more to the point, because the court never prompted A.R. to participate, as the court had done with counsel for the Department and the child.”
She went on to say:
“Since A.R. was never given a turn to speak, and she appeared by WebEx, which does not afford an unrepresented person the same opportunity as one might have in court to assess when and whether it is appropriate to seek permission to address the court, A.R.’s only recourse was to interrupt the court in a last-ditch attempt to be heard, at which point she was threatened with ejection from the hearing.
“We cannot find the error to be harmless….We cannot speculate about what A.R. would have contributed to the hearing, or what influence it may have had on the court’s ruling.”
The case is A.R. v. Superior Court, B308017.
Burbank attorney Pamela Rae Tripp represented A.R. Deputy County Counsel David Michael Miller acted for the department.
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