News has traveled at this point that FSU Professor Paolo Annino has filed a petition in the First DCA placing the issue of a child’s right to counsel squarely before the court. In his case, the child is fighting a TPR petition that is brought by DCF and supported by the GAL. The child moved for either DCF or the JAC to pay for a bonding assessment, because the 8-year-old child was (obviously) indigent. The trial court’s ruling:
This Court finds that the minor child does not have a constitutional right to appointed counsel in a termination of parental rights trial and agrees with the legal position taken by both DCF and the JAC. Accordingly, the minor child is not entitled to have the JAC pay for litigation expenses such as expert evaluations, etc. for the purposes of preparing for trial. This Court further finds that DCF is not required to pay for expenses that are not for the purposes of provided recommended services for the minor child, but are litigation expenses requested on behalf of the minor child.
Trial Court Order, In re S.S., (October 4, 2011).
Professor Annino’s cert petition challenges the denial of funding on three grounds: Due Process (if the child has a due process right to counsel, then JAC has to pay), Access to courts (failing to fund counsel denies access), and Right to privacy (a new Florida right to analyze right to counsel under since the last time such a case was decided). It will be interesting to see if the final analysis of the case hinges on the rights of the child as hoped or instead slips into separation of powers or something completely unexpected.