Once again, R.L-R., the attorney-client privilege case, is set for oral argument on June 10, 2013 at 10:30 in the Third DCA. If you recall, last time the youth ran away and only his attorney knew where he was. The youth refused to tell or communicate with anyone else. DCF moved to compel the attorney to disclose the information, and the attorney refused citing privilege. Judge Hanzman, in a lengthy order, ruled that attorney-client privilege applies to children and youth in dependency proceedings and that there is no “best interests” exception. DCF took that ruling up on writ, which the Third DCA dismissed as moot when the child returned, despite requests from all parties for the Court to hear the matter.
Since that time, Judge Hanzman recused himself on an unrelated ground, and the case is now set before Judge Lederman. One of the main arguments made on behalf of the privilege is that, if the child does not feel he can safely talk to his attorney, the next time he runs away nobody will know where he is. Thankfully that didn’t happen: The child apparently ran again, but again kept in contact with his counsel. It is no surprise, however, since Judge Lederman has gone on record many times stating that she does not believe in attorneys for children, that she found that there is certainly an exception to the privilege for a child if it applies at all.
As I said before, this is a critical moment for the rights of dependent children in Florida. Equally so, though, this is a critical moment for all attorneys: if the state and courts can force an attorney to disclose information based on their own interpretations of what is in that client’s best interest, then there is no privilege at all. This encroachment at the edges should raise alarm bells across the Bar.