Appointment of Independent Counsel to Represent a Dependent Minor

Does An Independent Counsel Appointed Under Welfare and Institutions Code Have Broad Duties to Represent a Dependent Minor's Best Interest ? In Akkiko M. v. Superior Court (1985) 163 Cal. App. 3d 525 209 Cal. Rptr. 568, the court considered a minor's challenge of an order dismissing her counsel appointed under former Welfare and Institutions Code section 318. In reviewing the provisions of Welfare and Institutions Code section 318, which are now essentially part of Welfare and Institutions Code section 317, the court noted as follows: "It is apparent that many of the responsibilities normally associated with a guardian ad litem have been placed upon counsel. In light of the duties placed upon counsel by Welfare and Institutions Code section 318, we reject the Department's argument that, as guardian ad litem, the Department controls litigation and retention of counsel for an abused or neglected minor. The Legislature intended that independent counsel, not the Department in its role as guardian ad litem, would control litigation and represent the interests of the abused or neglected child." (Akkiko M., supra, 163 Cal. App. 3d at p. 530,; see also In re Alexis W. (1999) 71 Cal. App. 4th 28, 36 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 488 " 'The role of counsel for the child in dependency proceedings is not merely to act as a mouthpiece for the minor . . . .' ".) Therefore, independent counsel appointed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 317, subdivision (e), has broad duties to represent the dependent minor's best interests, including interests outside the scope of the juvenile proceeding. In addition, the juvenile court has broad authority and responsibility to "take whatever appropriate action is necessary to fully protect the interests of the minor." (Ibid.) The broad duties of appointed counsel are consistent with and substantially equivalent to the role of a guardian ad litem, at least with respect to filing a governmental tort claim. As a result, the appointment of independent counsel serves the purposes of Government Code section 911.4 and the case law because the minor has a representative that is sufficiently authorized and knowledgeable about his or her interests to pursue tort claims on his or her behalf.