Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Friday, November 27, 2009

Give Children the Right to Counsel in Dependency Proceedings

Children Rights Advocate Howard Talenfeld

Good article by Jan Pudlow in the Florida Bar News, 12/1/2009 issue. The link below at the end of this blog.

“When the state takes a child out of their home and into state custody, it seems to me that every single child that is the main focus of such a process is entitled to a lawyer to represent their rights against the state,” Rosemary Barkett, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, told members of The Florida Bar Legal Needs of Children Committee last week.

Did you know that when kids are taken out of a home and placed into state custody, they technically have never had a right to an attorney? That no one is formally appointed to represent their rights against the state?

A number of child care advocates want to change that, including Rosemary Barkett, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Howard Talenfeld, chair of the Legal Needs of Children Committee and Bar President Jesse Diner.

What amazes me is that this is not the law already. Let’s hope the legislature changes that soon. The next step is presenting the proposed bill — that also has the support of the Public Interest Law Section — to the Legislation Committee and the Board of Governors meeting December 11 in Amelia Island, so that the Bar may approve it as an official position to lobby the Legislature in 2010. Apparently, this is a battle that has been going on for ten years. How can that be?

As Justice Barkett stated: “Having a lawyer challenge your authority, question your decision, hear what you do, is not a pleasant thing. But that is the system that we have, as long as juvenile dependency proceedings are in a court of law. . . .” I read the Bar News article which suggests that the financial component of providing legal counsel to children is potentially prohibitive, to the frightening tune of $100 million statewide. Sounds scary, but it is just a Powerball game away, really.

The bottom line is that the LAW does not provide for expedience as a grounds for denying someone a fundamental constitutional right. I do not want to say that all courts do not have the best interests of children at heart, but as we live in a country that gives accused criminals the right to an advocate, should we not afford the same breadth of legal protection to innocent children? Have children in this state not been ignored long enough?

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