Georgia: Deprived children and youth have no standing independent of GAL

If there is a holding in this case, it’s this:

The protector of a child’s best interests is his guardian ad litem. It has previously been held that, “[w]hen a court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent a minor, the minor is in effect made a party to the action and has standing through the guardian ad litem to appeal. [Cits.].” (Emphasis supplied.) In the Interest of J.F., 310 Ga. App. 807, 808, n. 1 (714 SE2d 399) (2011). This is the appropriate result in a deprivation action, as this case exemplifies. Here, the trial court determined that the child was deprived. The child’s legal guardians do not contest this result, and the child’s guardian ad litem has opined that an appeal is not in the child’s best interests. All of the adults who are legally entrusted with the child’s best interests do not believe an appeal is necessary. It would be inappropriate, indeed unwise, to allow a child, especially one under the circumstances of deprivation, to override all other decisions regarding his best interests.

In re W.L.H.
Supreme Court of Georgia, — S.E.2d —-,13 FCDR 389 (March 4, 2013).

This is a somewhat befuddling opinion, consisting of two statutory cites, one out-of-context sentence of a lower court opinion, and a conclusory statement that any contrary result would be “unwise.” It is apparently so unwise that the court deems it best not to describe the level of unwisdom that would befall children if they were allowed to appeal something that other parties thought they should not appeal, even if appeals are rarely granted, even if most kids don’t have attorneys, and even if other states allow children and youth to appeal without any noteworthy harm raining down on them or anyone else. I do not claim to know anything about Georgia law, but it is exceedingly curious to me that a state supreme court opinion on representation could exhaust itself of logic without mentioning “due process” except in the gloss of the appellant’s argument.

The dissent does a thorough job of dismantling at the legal and policy level why this result is not necessary or, even, wise. To deny someone standing is the ultimate legal pronouncement that you do not care, no matter how personally important or legally exigent, about anything they have to say. I am proud that Florida courts have a history of moving towards inclusion and empowerment of children and youth subject to dependency proceedings, hearing them out alongside their GALs and other people tasked with shaping their best interests. The Supreme Court of Georgia suggests that a legislative fix is necessary. I hope for its kids that this moment of silence ends quickly.

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