Friday, December 29, 2017

Georgia issues opinion on conflict of interest when serving as attorney for a minor and guardian ad litem at the same time

Back in 2010 I posted a comment criticizing the practice of appointing attorneys for juveniles in delinquency proceedings to serve simultaneously as guardians ad litem and urging the Illinois Supreme Court to grant review in a case that challenged it. I stated that the way courts justified the practice "displays a complete lack of understanding of the very notion of the attorney-client relationship. The notion that some attorneys are attempting to serve as guardians at litem and advocates for the minors at the same time is inconceivable to me. The two roles are, by definition, almost always incompatible." Later I wrote a law review article on the subject (available here) in which I made a long argument in support of my position.  The Illinois Supreme Court eventually decided, as I had suggested, that the dual appointment constituted a conflict, and I wrote another article commenting on the case (available here.)

That case, however, was limited to the practice in juvenile delinquency proceedings, and I found out later that Illinois courts continue to assign lawyers the dual role of attorney and guardian in family law matters.  In my opinion, the fact the are of the law is different does not make a difference and it is disturbing that the practice continues.

Today I found out, however, that earlier this month the Georgia Supreme Court approved an ethics opinion about the subject finding that it is a conflict of interest to serve as both a child's lawyer and guardian ad litem in a termination of parental rights proceeding when the child's wishes and best interests conflict.

The new opinion, which was issued by the Georgia State Bar's Formal Opinion Advisory Board, is attached as an appendix to the court's per curiam opinion approving it (In re Formal Advisory Opinion No. 16-2, 2017 BL 444895, Ga., No. S17U0553, 12/11/17).

The opinion concludes that when an irreconcilable conflict of interest develops between the child's wishes and the lawyer's view of the child's best interests, the lawyer must withdraw from the role of guardian ad litem, and may seek to withdraw entirely if the conflict is severe.

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