Third DCA Upholds Attorney-Client Privilege for Foster Youth, Quashes Contempt Order

R.L.R. came down today quashing the contempt order and upholding the attorney-client privilege. Says the court: “In this circumstance it is altogether clear that protecting the attorney-client privilege protects the administration of justice.”

I was saddened and disappointed by some of the language DCF (notably not the GAL Program) used in its oral argument and response. Language that implied lawyers did not care for kids or that they do not suffer through the heartbreaking situations that dependency cases present. Language like this, from the response:

The Department’s concern for the safety of these minors is in contrast to the Attorneys who express their concern about future dependent minors being able to remain outside the custody of the Department.

Those of us who do this work care deeply about the well-being and safety of our clients, as do case managers, guardians ad litem, judges, and everyone else. We want what is best for them, but we accept the added burden of also teaching them and counseling them to reach for what is best for themselves. It is a much tougher job than I imagined it would be, but I am glad every time a kid calls me to ask before doing something outlandish, dangerous, or rude.

I could never support a rule that allowed an attorney to “secret” a child away, as DCF worded it in their response. But the attorney-client privilege does not and has never done that. It leaves the child one lifeline when they feel they are drowning, as it was meant to do for everyone.

I was discussing with several students this week that I rarely, if ever, see the types of behaviors that people describe many of my clients exhibiting. I rarely see the uncontrolled anger, the destruction of property, the emotional breakdowns. It’s not because I don’t spend time with my clients. I talk to some of them almost daily. I attribute my good fortune to the fact that I am always on their side. I tell them where they are and how to get where they want to be. Even when I’m giving them bad news or telling them no, I do it with their interests and well-being first in mind. I still have to reprove myself and my allegiances to them every day. The pro bono attorney for R.L.R. was willing to go to jail to defend her client’s rights and ensure his safety. He should know that she has his interests truly at heart, even when she gives bad news, even when she has to tell him no. That’s just for a day, though. Tomorrow she will have to prove herself to him again.

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