Separate Lawyers for Multiple Minors in California

The issue of separate counsel for multiple minors was addressed by the Supreme Court in In re Celine R. (2003) 31 Cal.4th 45. The court held "that the court may appoint a single attorney to represent all of the siblings unless, at the time of appointment an actual conflict of interest exists among them or it appears from circumstances specific to the case that it is reasonably likely an actual conflict will arise. After the initial appointment, the court must relieve counsel from the joint representation when, but only when, an actual conflict of interest rises." (Id. at p. 50.) For an actual conflict to arise at the permanency planning stage, there must be a showing that the siblings have different interests which would require their attorney to advocate a course of action for one child which has adverse consequences to the other. Standing alone, the fact that siblings have different permanent plans does not necessarily demonstrate an actual conflict of interest. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.660(c)(1)(C)(v).) Further, "error in not appointing separate counsel for a child or relieving conflicted counsel" requires reversal only if it is reasonably probable the outcome would have been different but for the error. (In re Celine R., supra, 31 Cal.4th at pp. 59-60.) In Celine R., the Court explained that the sibling relationship exception only allows consideration of whether severing the relationship could cause detriment to the child being considered for adoption, and not whether it would cause detriment to the siblings. (In re Celine R., supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 54.) The Court's explanation of the scope of the exception raises significant questions about the continuing viability of that portion of the decision in Carroll, supra, 101 Cal.App.4th 1423, and claims such as the one here. (In re Celine, supra, at p. 60.)