A recent explanatory report released by the Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addresses the role of a guardian ad litem in a juvenile proceeding. Although many have heard the term “guardian ad litem,” few understand the difficult position these attorneys are in and what their role is in a juvenile court proceeding. The most important aspect of this unique attorney-client relationship is based on trust. The child must trust his or her attorney and feel as though their attorney is looking out for their interests. However, the report from the Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee implies that more often than not, this relationship is one of betrayal and distrust in the child’s eyes.
Due to this negative view of the attorney-client relationship in a juvenile proceeding, the Committee’s report sought to clarify the attorney’s role by stating the following facts:
• Attorneys representing juveniles are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct, the nationwide set of ethics rules that all attorneys must follow.
• An attorney representing a juvenile should clarify to their client (1) to right to have a hearing before a judge; (2) all of the client’s rights at all stages of the proceeding; and (3) all of the rights the juvenile is waiving during the admissions colloquy
• The distinction between a Guardian Ad Litem and the child’s legal counsel is no longer going to be made-meaning that each child is provided legal counsel, and a guardian is not always going to be involved.
• Counsel for a child can be considered a “best interests” attorney only when the child has diminished capacity. This means that the attorney-client relationship should typically be no different than any other attorney-client relationship, and the attorney representing the child should not substitute his/her judgment for that of the child unless necessary.
• The Committee is getting rid of the term “Guardian Ad Litem” and replacing it with “counsel.”
The Committee is accepting public comments on these proposed rules until Monday, September 24, 2012. If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, experienced in the area of juvenile law, contact our Pittsburgh law firm today.