Prisoners Right to Appear at Family Court in California

California Penal Code section 2601, subdivision (d), affords an inmate the express statutory right to initiate civil actions. To give this statutory right meaning, an inmate also retains the right to meaningful access to the courts to prosecute a civil action. (Apollo v. Gyaami (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1468, 1483, citing Wantuch v. Davis (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 786.) Accordingly, an inmate may not be deprived, by his or her inmate status, of meaningful access to the civil courts if the prisoner is both an indigent and a party to a bona fide civil action threatening his or her personal or property interests. (Wantuch, supra, 32 Cal.App.4th at p. 792.) Penal Code section 2625, subdivision (d), affords an inmate an absolute right to appear at specific family court hearings: to declare a child free from the custody and control of a parent (Fam. Code, 7800-7895); to terminate parental rights or declare guardianship of a child adjudged a ward of the state (Fam. Code, 366.26); and to adjudge a child a dependent of the court following parental abuse or neglect (Fam. Code, 300, subds. (a)-(f), (i), (j)). Family Code section 3101 permits a court to grant reasonable visitation rights to a stepparent, if such rights are in the best interests of the child. Article I, section 7(a) of the California Constitution provides "a person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."