California Landmark Cases on Whether Psychotherapist-patient Privilege Applies to Minors

It is established that the psychotherapist-patient privilege applies to the relationship between a dependent minor and his or her therapist. (In re Daniel C. H. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 814; In re Eduardo A. (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1038, 1041-1043.) "The purpose of the privilege is to protect the privacy of a patient's confidential communications to his or her psychotherapist. " (In re Daniel C. H., supra, at p. 826.) In this relationship between a patient and a therapist, the patient generally is the holder of the privilege unless the patient has a guardian or conservator. (In re Kristine W. (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 521, 525-526.) For dependency proceedings, counsel that is appointed for a minor serves as the child's guardian ad litem. (See 326.5; In re Josiah Z. (2005) 36 Cal.4th 664, 679.) A guardian ad litem is responsible for both evaluating "the situation and needs of the child" and "making recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of the child." (42 U.S.C. 5106a(b)(2)(A)(xiii)(I), (II).) The guardian ad litem is required to "'represent and protect the rights and best interests of the child.'" (In re Josiah Z., supra, at p. 679, citing 45 C.F.R. 1340.14(g) (2004), 55 Fed.Reg. 27639 (July 5, 1990).) The guardian, therefore, becomes a "fiduciary whose role is to investigate the child's circumstances and advocate for the child's best interests." (In re Josiah Z., supra, at p. 679.) Section 317, subdivision (f) provides that in dependency proceedings: "Either the child or the counsel for the child, with the informed consent of the child if the child is found by the court to be of sufficient age and maturity to so consent ... may invoke the psychotherapist-client privilege . ... Counsel shall be holder of this privilege if the child is found by the court not to be of sufficient age and maturity to so consent ... ." Thus, once an attorney has been appointed for a minor in a juvenile dependency matter, the attorney holds the privilege to therapeutic communications sought to be introduced in evidence. (See 317, subd. (f).) In ruling on the admissibility of evidence, the trial court is vested with broad discretion. "'The court's ruling will be upset only if there is a clear showing of an abuse of discretion.'' "The appropriate test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial court exceeded the bounds of reason... ."'" (Tudor Ranches, Inc. v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1422, 1431.)