Dis­abil­ity com­plaint tar­gets Su­pe­rior Court

Class ac­tion says ap­pointed at­tor­neys rou­tinely vi­o­late ADA in con­ser­va­tor cases.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Stephen Ceasar stephen. ceasar @ latimes. com

A dis­abil­ity- rights group on Fri­day f iled a fed­eral com­plaint al­leg­ing that the Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court has sys­tem­i­cally vi­o­lated the civil rights of in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled res­i­dents who are un­der lim­ited con­ser­va­tor­ships by fail­ing to pro­vide ef­fec­tive le­gal as­sis­tance through its cour­tap­pointed at­tor­neys.

The class- ac­tion com­plaint, filed with the U. S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice in Los An­ge­les, al­leges that cour­tap­pointed at­tor­neys rou­tinely vi­o­late the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act dur­ing lim­ited- con­ser­va­tor­ship pro­ceed­ings.

Par­ents and other guardians can seek the power to make de­ci­sions re­lated to their dis­abled child’s resi- dence, ed­u­ca­tion, con­tracts, med­i­cal and other le­gal mat­ters af­ter they turn 18. The court- ap­pointed at­tor­neys rep­re­sent the con­ser­va­tees dur­ing the process.

The court de­ter­mines who con­trols cer­tain le­gal af­fairs of adults if they are deemed in court to be at least par­tially in­ca­pable of look­ing af­ter them­selves.

About 12,000 peo­ple have open lim­ited- con­ser­va­tor­ship cases in L. A. county, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

The com­plaint al­leges that the court sys­tem has failed to pro­vide ad­e­quate train­ing to at­tor­neys in how to com­ply with the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, has failed to train the at­tor­neys on how to ef­fec­tively work with a client who has de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, and lacks qual­i­fi­ca­tion and per­for­mance stan­dards.

The court also places a con­flict of in­ter­ests on these at­tor­neys, the com­plaint al­leges.

The court re­quires at­tor­neys to ad­vo­cate for the client while also as­sist­ing the court in re­solv­ing the mat­ter, vi­o­lat­ing the client’s right to due process, the com­plaint al­leges.

In a state­ment, the court said that it had not been served with the com­plaint and that it has not been no­tif ied by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice that it will be in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter.

“In lit­i­ga­tion, po­ten­tial con­ser­va­tees are repre- sented by coun­sel cho­sen from a panel se­lected and trained by a Bar As­so­ci­a­tion. The de­ter­mi­na­tion of ap­pro­pri­ate re­stric­tions on con­ser­va­tees is made in in­di­vid­ual pro­ceed­ings be­fore a bench of­fi­cer ap­ply­ing the ap­pli­ca­ble law,” the state­ment said.

Thomas F. Coleman, an at­tor­ney and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dis­abil­ity and Guardian­ship Pro­ject who filed the com­plaint, called on fed­eral author­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate and force court of­fi­cials to “clean up their act.” The lack of ef­fec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion leads to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in­ap­pro­pri­ately los­ing their rights, Coleman said at a news con­fer­ence.

“We’re not in­ter­ested in mak­ing peo­ple look bad — we’re in­ter­ested in so­lu­tions,” he said. “But to get so­lu­tions, we need to tell the truth.”

The Dis­abil­ity and Guardian­ship Pro­ject filed a com­plaint last year with the U. S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­tend­ing that the court has wrongly stripped peo­ple un­der lim­ited con­ser­va­tor­ships of the right to vote if they couldn’t f ill out a voter reg­is­tra­tion af­fi­davit. Last month, fed­eral author­i­ties an­nounced they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions.

Nora J. Balade­rian, di­rec­tor of the Dis­abil­ity and Abuse Pro­ject, said the court sys­tem for decades has mis­treated and failed some of so­ci­ety’s most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens.

“The court rou­tinely treats in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties who come be­fore them as ‘ less than.’ Less than hu­man, I’m sorry to say,” she said.

Yolande Pam Erick­son, con­ser­va­tor­ship at­tor­ney at Bet Tzedek Le­gal Ser­vices, de­fended the court and its at­tor­neys, say­ing they take on a dif­fi­cult job with care and com­pas­sion for the fam­i­lies they serve.

“The court al­most bends over back­ward to do the right thing,” she said. “Are there some prob­lems? Sure. But the at­tor­neys, I be­lieve, are ad­vo­cat­ing for the best in­ter­ests of their clients.”

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U. S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Los An­ge­les, said of­fi­cials will look into the al­le­ga­tions.

“The com­plaints will be re­viewed to de­ter­mine what, if any, ac­tion should fol­low,” he said.

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

THE COURT hasn’t ad­e­quately trained lawyers for the in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled, the com­plaint says.

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