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October 01, 2012

Washington News Briefs

CHILD WELFARE PROCEEDINGS: Last month, the ABA filed an amicus brief ;urging the Supreme Court of Georgia to allow a minor who is the subject of a child-welfare proceeding to appeal, through his attorney, a trial court’s decision. The brief in the case, In the Interest of W.L.H., a Child, states that “the ABA asserts that the child, in consultation with his attorney, must have a meaningful voice in deprivation proceedings, including standing to bring an appeal of a trial court’s ruling.” According to the brief, “to allow another party, including a guardian ad litem to overrule a child’s expressed desire to appeal would, in the ABA’s view, allow that party improperly to assume the child’s place within the attorney-client relationship.” The brief further recognizes that this position is consistent with how the Supreme Court of Georgia has previously recognized the attorney-client relationship. The brief takes no position on the merits of an appeal, stating that the “ABA asserts only that the child, through counsel, should have his or her day in court.”

JUVENILE COURT RULES: The ABA urged the Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania last month to adopt proposed juvenile court rules that would establish and clarify the role and duties of lawyers in juvenile court proceedings. The proposed rules are patterned after the ABA Model Act Governing the Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect and Dependency Proceedings (ABA Model Act), which was adopted with widespread support by the ABA in August 2011 after a three-year drafting process. ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman explained in a Sept. 24 comment letter to the committee that the model of client-directed representation within the ABA Model Act represents the best practices for the representation of children. A lawyer-client relationship established under the ABA Model Act includes the lawyer-client privilege that is essential to build a trusting relationship that enables the child client to participate and have a voice in proceedings that fundamentally affect his or her life and safety. Susman pointed out that the ABA Model Act, the ABA Models Rules of Professional Conduct and the proposed Pennsylvania juvenile court rules also contain sufficient safeguards for clients with diminished capacity who cannot be counseled out of an unsafe decision, and they outline how a lawyer can take protective action for a child client if necessary. “Thus,” according to Susman, “under the proposed model, a lawyer would never be bound to advocate for something he or she felt would put the child client at risk of harm.”

VOTER PARTICIPATION: The ABA established a website this month encouraging voter participation and urging lawyers to volunteer to serve as official nonpartisan poll workers. The new ABA Vote website provides information for anyone interested in serving as a poll worker and provides resources to help voters find their polling places and aid uniformed service members and those living abroad to vote absentee. The website also provides teachers with free lesson plans that encourage civic responsibility. “This election may be the most consequential in recent memory,” according to ABA President Laurel G. Bellows, who explained that the “security and welfare of our families, the safekeeping of liberty, and the maintenance and promotion of the rule of law at home and abroad will be decided by free Americans pulling levers, tapping touch screens and affixing stamps to mail-in ballots on and before Nov. 6.” She said that voter registration and identification are deeply divisive issues and unfortunately some individuals who are qualified to vote may be turned away from their polling places. “Democracy operates best when voters understand their rights and responsibilities on Election Day,” Bellows said. She pointed out that nearly a century after the right to vote was finally promised to every American regardless of his or her race or gender, “our democracy remains – as it was designed to be – a work in progress.” As the voice of the legal profession, the ABA insists on fair and transparent elections so that voters can insist on fair and transparent government, she concluded.

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