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In re Joyce R.
In re Joyce R.
12/04/12



In re Joyce R










In re Joyce R.



















Filed 9/19/12 In re Joyce R. CA2/1

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>NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS

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California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts
and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or
ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for
publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115>.











IN
THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA



SECOND
APPELLATE DISTRICT



DIVISION
ONE




>










In re JOYCE
R., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law.


B235850




LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT
OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES,



Respondent,



v.



JOSEPHINE D.,



Appellant.




(Los
Angeles County

Super. Ct.
No. CK04888)






APPEAL from
orders of the Superior Court
of href="http://www.adrservices.org/neutrals/frederick-mandabach.php">Los Angeles
County. Anthony
Trendacosta, Commissioner. Affirmed.

Jesse F.
Rodriguez, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Appellant.

John F.
Krattli, Acting County Counsel, James M. Owens, Assistant County Counsel, and
Timothy M. O’Crowley, Principal Deputy County Counsel, for Respondent.





_______________________________



Appellant
Josephine D. (Mother) appeals from an August 22, 2011 order of the juvenile
court sustaining in part a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section
300, removing her daughter, Joyce, from her custody, and providing for
monitored visitation. (All undesignated
statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.) Mother contends that these orders are void
because substantial evidence does not
support the order sustaining the petition, and that the juvenile court abused
its discretion by denying her request to represent herself.

The
juvenile court terminated dependency
jurisdiction
on February 24, 2012,
after Joyce had reached the age of 18 on
September 24, 2011. Mother therefore has no further right to
custody or other right to relief from the juvenile court with respect to
Joyce. Because Mother contends that the
court’s jurisdictional determination resulted in orders that may adversely
affect her in the future, however, we decline to dismiss the appeal as
moot.

On the
merits of Mother’s appeal, we conclude that the challenged orders are supported
by substantial evidence, we find no abuse of discretion in the denial of
Mother’s self-representation request, and we therefore affirm the challenged
jurisdictional determination.

BACKGROUND



Joyce R.
was born in September 1993. On May 9, 2011, when she was 17 years
old, she was taken into protective custody when she reported to the police that
she had left Mother’s home two days earlier after having been physically abused
by Mother. She also reported a history
of Mother’s abuse and failure to provide appropriate care, physical abuse by a
19-year-old brother who also resided in Mother’s home, and her resulting fear
of returning home.

The Los
Angeles County Department of Children and
Family Services
(DCFS) filed a dependency petition on May 12, 2011, alleging that Joyce came within the
jurisdiction of the juvenile court under section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions
Code. The petition alleged that Joyce
has suffered, or there is a substantial risk she will suffer, serious physical
harm inflicted nonaccidentally by Mother (§ 300, subd. (a)); that she has
suffered, or there is a substantial risk she will suffer, serious harm
resulting from Mother’s failure or inability to adequately protect her,
resulting from Mother’s willful or negligent failure to provide her with
adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care, and from Mother’s inability
to provide regular care due to Mother’s mental illness and emotional problems
(§ 300, subd. (b)); and that Joyce’s father has failed to provide her with the
necessities of life (§ 300, subd. (g)).

At the
detention hearing on May 12, 2011, Mother expressed her desire to represent
herself, declined the court’s advice to accept appointment of an attorney to
represent her, and signed an Advisement And Waiver Of Right To Counsel. The court advised Mother of its concern about
her ability to represent herself, and deferred its ruling on that issue. After the court read the pertinent
allegations of the petition to Mother, Mother denied the petition’s
allegations.

The court
found that a prima facie case had been established for Joyce’s detention upon a
showing that she came within subdivisions (a), (b), and (g) of section 300, and
that her physical and emotional health was in substantial danger. It placed responsibility for Joyce’s
temporary custody with the DCFS, made appropriate interim orders (including, at
Mother’s request, an order for a “section 730” psychological evaluation of
Mother), and set the date for a jurisdiction/disposition hearing.href="#_ftn1" name="_ftnref1" title="">>[1] After receiving the section 730 evaluation,
the trial court denied Mother’s request to represent herself and appointed
counsel to represent her.

Mother was
represented by appointed counsel at the jurisdiction/disposition hearing on
August 22, 2011. After receiving
documentary evidence and the testimony of Joyce and Mother, and hearing the
arguments of counsel, the court made jurisdictional findings sustaining
portions of the petition’s allegations and finding Joyce to be a person
described by section 300, subdivisions (a), (b), and (g).

Specifically,
the court sustained the claims set forth in paragraphs a-1 (as amended), b-3
(as amended), b-7, and g-1 of the petition, finding that Mother had
“inappropriately disciplined” Joyce, causing unreasonable pain and suffering;
that Mother had exhibited actions consistent with mental and emotional problems
that inhibit her ability to properly care for Joyce and place Joyce at risk of
harm; and that Joyce’s father, whose whereabouts were unknown, had failed to
provide her with the necessities of life, endangering her physical health,
safety, and well being, and placing her at risk of physical harm and damage.href="#_ftn2" name="_ftnref2" title="">>[2]

Finding by
clear and convincing evidence that Joyce could not be safely returned to
Mother’s custody, the court ordered Joyce to remain in the care of the DCFS for
suitable placement. (§ 361, subd. (c).) It set February 17, 2012 as the likely date
for either permanent placement or return to Mother’s home.href="#_ftn3" name="_ftnref3" title="">>[3]

Mother
appealed from the August 22, 2012 findings and orders.href="#_ftn4" name="_ftnref4" title="">>[4] Her opening brief raises two issues: (1) that the order sustaining the petition is
not supported by substantial evidence; and (2) that the court abused its
discretion by refusing to permit Mother to represent herself in the juvenile
court. For these errors, her appeal
contends, the jurisdictional order must be reversed, rendering the
dispositional order and all other orders of the juvenile court moot.

DISCUSSION



>1.
Augmentation of the Record to
Reflect the Court’s Termination of Dependency Jurisdiction After Mother’s
Notice of Appeal Was Filed.


Respondent
accompanied the filing of its brief with a motion requesting this court to take
additional evidence pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 909, which
permits reviewing courts to “take additional evidence of or concerning facts
occurring at any time prior to the decision of the appeal . . . .” With its motion, respondent provided a
February 24, 2012 minute order in the juvenile court proceeding, determining
that Joyce “has reached majority or has been emancipated,” and terminating
dependency jurisdiction as to Joyce. In
addition to responding to Mother’s arguments on their merits, Respondent’s
Brief contends that Joyce’s 18th birthday and the trial court’s termination of
jurisdiction ended the court’s ability to provide any relief to Mother,
rendering her appeal moot.

Mother does
not dispute that Joyce’s 18th birthday passed on September 24, 2011, nor does
she oppose augmentation of the record to include the February 24, 2012 minute
order terminating jurisdiction. She
argues only that Joyce’s attainment of majority and the order terminating the
court’s dependency jurisdiction do not render her appeal from the earlier
jurisdiction determination moot.

We grant
the unopposed motion to receive the February 24, 2012 minute order into the
record on appeal. (In re Salvador M. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 1415, 1422 [proper to
augment appellate record to include agency’s addendum report disclosing
postjudgment event rendering issue on appeal moot]; In re A.B. (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 832, 841 [proper to augment
appellate record with evidence of postjudgment circumstance that does not
involve second-guessing propriety of trial court’s resolution of issues]; see
also Evid. Code, § 452, subd. (d) [judicial notice may be taken of records of
any court of this state].) We also take
notice that on February 27, 2012, Mother filed a Notice Of Appeal purporting to
appeal from the dependency court’s order of February 24, 2012 terminating
jurisdiction (among other orders). For
the reasons set forth below, we decline to dismiss this appeal from the earlier
disposition as moot.

>2.
Mother’s Appeal from the August
22, 2011 Jurisdictional Determination Is Not Moot.


The general
rule is that “‘[a]n action that originally was based on a justiciable
controversy cannot be maintained on appeal if all the questions have become
moot by subsequent acts or events. A
reversal in such a case would be without practical effect, and the appeal will
therefore be dismissed.’
[Citation].” (>In re Dani R. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 402,
404.) The question before us therefore
is whether the order terminating dependency jurisdiction rendered the appeal
from the earlier jurisdictional determination “without practical effect,” and
therefore moot.

Mother
concedes that “‘as a general rule’ an order terminating juvenile court
jurisdiction renders an appeal from a previous order in the dependency
proceeding moot,” because “the court can
give no practical relief” after dependency jurisdiction is terminated. She argues, however, that there are
exceptions to that rule, including “where exercise of that jurisdiction has resulted
in orders which continue to adversely affect appellant.” For this she relies on the decision in >In re Joshua C. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th
1544, 1548 (Joshua C).

In >Joshua C., dependency court jurisdiction
was based on findings that the appellant father had sexually abused his
10-year-old daughter, and that her twin brother, too, was in danger of being
sexually abused. The court’s disposition
had restricted the father’s visitation of his daughter and her sibling, had
placed the children in their mother’s sole custody, and had terminated
dependency jurisdiction. (>Joshua C., supra, 24 Cal.App.4th at p. 1547.)

The Court
of Appeal declined in that case to find that the termination of dependency
jurisdiction had rendered moot the father’s appeal from the earlier
jurisdictional determination and resulting custody orders. The orders respecting custody and visitation
were ongoing, notwithstanding that dependency jurisdiction had ended; the
appeal therefore was not moot, because the challenged custody and visitation
orders would be directly affected—“would be invalid”—if the jurisdictional
basis for those orders were determined to be faulty. (Joshua
C.
, supra, 24 Cal.App.4th at pp.
1547-1548 [appeals in dependency matters are not moot if “‘the purported error
is of such magnitude as to infect the outcome of [subsequent
proceedings].’”) Therefore the father’s
appeal was not “without practical effect,” for (if successful) it would
invalidate the orders granting the sole custody to the mother and limiting the
father’s visitation. (>Ibid.)

The
challenged orders in this case do not have that sort of direct or continuing
impact on Mother. In our case, setting
aside dependency jurisdiction and nullifying the resulting custody orders could
not restore Joyce’s custody to Mother.
Whether Joyce was or was not properly found to be within the court’s
dependency jurisdiction, her attainment of majority has forever foreclosed the
dependency court from revisiting that determination, even if the earlier
determination were to be set aside.href="#_ftn5"
name="_ftnref5" title="">[5]

If the only
issue in this appeal were whether Joyce will be subject to the court’s
dependency jurisdiction, the appeal therefore could serve no useful purpose;
its outcome could provide Mother with no practical relief. That is the definition of mootness. (In re
Michelle M.
(1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 326, 330; In re Dani R., supra, 89
Cal.App.4th at p. 404.)

However, Mother contends that the
principle set forth in Joshua C. should
be applied to prevent her appeal’s dismissal, because the court’s
jurisdictional findings of abuse and neglect by Mother “if erroneous, could
have severe and unfair consequences to her in future dependency
proceedings.” Although Joyce’s attaining
majority precludes her restoration to Mother’s custody, and Mother has no minor
children, she argues that “she may still have other children in the future that
would be affected by the jurisdictional findings made as to Joyce.”href="#_ftn6" name="_ftnref6" title="">>[6] And she argues that the challenged
determinations of abuse might also expose her “to the future possibility of
actual or potential loss of employment” that she might someday seek
(particularly if that future employment were related to child care), if she
were to be listed as a child abuser in the Child Abuse Central Index maintained
by the California Department of Justice.
The California Attorney General administers the Child Abuse Central
Index (CACI) for the protection of children in the state. (Pen. Code, § 11170; see Pen. Code, §§ 11164-11174.3; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 11,
§§ 900-906.) The Child Abuse and Neglect
Reporting Act, of which CACI is a part, mandates that instances of child abuse
be reported and investigated, and that the identity of individuals whose abuse
of a child has been substantiated be made available to law enforcement, social
services, and other such agencies who (for example) might be called upon to
approve or disapprove an abuser’s future request for guardianship, adoption, or
employment involving children. (Pen.
Code, §§ 11164-11174.3.) For these
reasons, Mother contends, the court’s underlying determinations that Mother was
guilty of abuse and neglect could have future detrimental impacts on her,
demonstrating that her appeal from the dependency court’s jurisdictional
determination is not moot.

The
possibility that Mother could be adversely affected by the dependency court’s
jurisdictional findings in the future, and the fact that she has no other
realistic forum in which to challenge the propriety of those findings, lead us
to conclude that her appeal from those findings is not moot notwithstanding the
court’s order terminating dependency jurisdiction. (In re
J.K.
(2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1426, 1431-1432 [appeal is not moot because
jurisdictional findings could affect parent if future dependency proceedings
were initiated or contemplated with regard to father’s other children, if any];
In re D.C. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th
1010, 1015 [same]).)

We
distinguish the contrary determination in In
re Michelle
M., >supra, 8 Cal.App.4th 326, on the ground
that there the father’s appeal was found to be moot because he had permitted
the order terminating dependency jurisdiction to become final without appeal,
thus ending the court’s jurisdiction to render further relief. (Id.
at pp. 329-330.) Here, Mother’s
appeal was filed before the dependency court terminated jurisdiction, and that
order therefore remains subject to challenge on appeal.

>3.
Substantial Evidence Supports The
Juvenile Dependency Court’s Order Sustaining The Section 300 Petition.


The court
may take dependency jurisdiction over a child only if it finds, upon
substantial evidence, that the child is a person described by one or more of
the subdivisions of section 300. (>In re D.C., supra, 195 Cal.App.4th at
p. 1014.) On review, we leave issues of
fact and credibility to the trial court, we draw all reasonable inferences in
support of its findings, and we affirm any determinations that are supported by
substantial evidence. (>In re James R. (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th
129, 135.)

The
dependency court sustained the claims set forth in paragraphs a-1 (as amended),
b-3 (as amended), b-7, and g-1 of the petition, corresponding to subdivisions
(a), (b), and (g) of section 300.
Subdivision (a) of section 300 provides in pertinent part that a child
is subject to dependency jurisdiction if the child “has suffered, or there is a
substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm inflicted
nonaccidentally upon the child by the child’s parent or guardian.” Under subdivision (a), a substantial risk of
serious future injury may be based on the manner in which a less serious injury
was inflicted, a history of repeated inflictions of injuries on the child, or a
combination of these and other actions by the parent that indicate the child is
at risk of future serious physical harm.
(§ 300, subd. (a).)

Subdivision
(b) of section 300 provides that a child is subject to dependency jurisdiction
if the child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will
suffer, serious physical harm or illness resulting from the parent’s failure or
inability to adequately supervise or protect the child, or the parent’s willful
or negligent failure to adequately supervise or protect the child from the
conduct of one with whom the child has been left, or the parent’s inability to
provide the child with regular care due to (for example) the parent’s mental
illness. (§ 300, subd. (b); >In re James R., supra, 176 Cal.App.4th at p. 135.)

In support
of the petition the trial court received in evidence, without objection,

various DCFS reports and their attachments,href="#_ftn7" name="_ftnref7" title="">>>[7]
including a 15-page, largely typewritten, single-spaced “verified plain
statement of truth” by Mother. The
documents include Joyce’s claims that Mother had slammed a laptop computer on
her fingers, had taken away her glasses as a form of punishment, that she was
often locked out of the house overnight, and that she was afraid to return home
because of ongoing abuse by Mother and her brother. These documents also include descriptions of
repeated physical abuse Joyce claimed to have received at her brother’s hand,
from which Mother did not protect her, including the incidents in which Mother
handed her brother a knife and encouraged him to kill Joyce, and in which
Joyce’s brother had shot her with a BB gun; reports that Joyce’s brother also
subjects Mother to beatings, leaving her with bruises; Joyce’s claims that
Mother had refused to seek attention for her medical and dental needs; and a
report of Joyce’s belief that her Mother has displayed paranoid behaviors “and
she is no longer able to distinguish reality from what she perceives a[s] the
truth.”href="#_ftn8" name="_ftnref8" title="">>[8]

Mother’s
typewritten “statement of truth” begins with her denial of the existence of
“evidence of any abuse done by the Mother to the 2 children since they are a
minor up to the present.”href="#_ftn9"
name="_ftnref9" title="">[9] The remainder of the document recounts the
family’s tribulations since before Joyce’s birth, including many interactions
and disputes with law enforcement and social service agencies concerning
Mother’s ability to care for her children; reports to law enforcement and
school officials about a sexual assault on Joyce and a physical assault on
Joyce’s brother; a multi-page narrative about the incidents leading to and
following Joyce’s May 7, 2011 departure from Mother’s home; Mother’s explanations
concerning Joyce’s school and the medical care Joyce had and had not received
in recent years; and a description of Joyce’s May 12, 2011 detention
hearing. The statement contains numerous
charges of dishonesty and misconduct by social workers and social service
agencies, including taking money for their personal benefit, forcing Mother to
sign documents without explanation, harassing the family and breaching the
confidentiality of medical records, removing records from agency files, making
false and misleading statements in reports, “connivance and conspiracy” in
connection with scheduling of doctors’ visits, and forcing Mother to have
unconsented hospitalization and surgery.

In
opposition to the petition, Mother presented the testimony of Joyce and Mother. Joyce testified that in attempting to stop
Joyce from using Skype, Mother had angrily slammed Joyce’s laptop computer on
the fingers of her right hand; that when Mother was angry with her she would
sometimes hit Joyce with her hands and pull her hair; that a few months earlier
her brother (who was 20 at the time of the testimony, and living with Mother)
had hit her, and about two years earlier he had shot her with a BB gun; that
she had reported to a social worker her belief that Mother is paranoid; and
that although she had been diagnosed with eczema and she had an ovarian cyst,
her Mother would not take her to a doctor for treatment.

Mother
denied slamming the computer on Joyce’s fingers, and denied handing a knife to
Joyce’s brother and encouraging him to kill Joyce, as the reports in evidence
had reported. She denied that Joyce’s
brother had ever engaged in violent physical behavior, denied that he had ever
been abusive to Joyce or had called her names, and denied that he had ever shot
Joyce with a BB gun. She confirmed that
Joyce had had eczema since soon after birth, but said she had sought
(unsuccessfully) to obtain a reference to a dermatologist for it, and that they
still had some (ineffective) medication that had been prescribed for it in the
past. Mother expressly confirmed to the
court the truth of the facts in her typewritten statement.

Evaluating
this evidence, the court found that Mother had exhibited conduct consistent
with mental and emotional problems that inhibit her ability to properly care
for Joyce and place Joyce at risk of harm.
Based on the parties’ stipulation, the court considered Mother’s 730
psychiatric assessment only in connection with disposition, not jurisdiction. However, it concluded that Mother’s own
written statement “bespeaks of something going on” with respect to Mother’s
mental and emotional condition, apparently affecting not just her credibility
but also her willingness and ability to correct the circumstances that had led
to the filing of the petition. Based on
the evidence before it, the court thus found the allegations of paragraphs a-1,
b-3 (as well as paragraphs b-7 and g-1) of the petition to be true.

Indicating
its belief that on material points Joyce was more credible than Mother, the
court sustained the petition’s allegations with respect to subdivision (a) of
section 300 based on its findings that Mother had on one occasion
“inappropriately disciplined” Joyce by striking her hand with a laptop
computer, causing unreasonable pain and suffering; and that she had once handed
a knife to Joyce’s adult brother and encouraged him to kill Joyce. It found that due to this physical abuse,
Joyce “does not wish to return to the
home and care of the mother.” And it
found that this abuse by Mother endangers the child’s physical health, safety
and well-being, creates a detrimental home environment, “and places the child
at risk of physical harm, damage, danger, physical abuse and failure to
protect.”

The court
sustained the petition’s allegations with respect to subdivision (b) of section
300 based on its findings that Mother “has exhibited action consistent with
mental and emotional problems which inhibit her ability to properly care for
the child and allowed Joyce to live in a chaotic home environment.” These include Mother’s conduct allowing
Joyce’s adult brother to inappropriately discipline her, failing to provide her
with proper medical care and treatment, engaging in physical disputes—“a
domestic violence situation”—with the brother in Joyce’s presence, and failing
to maintain a safe and clean home, “all of which place Joyce at risk of harm.”

The court
also found that Joyce’s father, whose whereabouts were unknown, had failed to
provide her with the necessities of life, endangering her physical health, safety,
and well being, and placing her at risk of physical harm and damage.href="#_ftn10" name="_ftnref10" title="">>>[10]

Mother
contends that these findings are not supported by substantial evidence. She argues, for example, that even if Joyce’s
claim that she slammed the computer on Joyce’s fingers, causing pain, redness,
and swelling (as Joyce had testified but which Mother denied) is believed,
evidence is lacking that by doing so she intended to injure Joyce, or even to
physically discipline her. The issue is
not, however, whether Mother intended her conduct to hurt Joyce; it is whether
her conduct in slamming Joyce’s fingers with the computer was
nonaccidental. (§ 300, subd. (a); >In re Giovanni F. (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th
594, 600-601.) The evidence plainly
supports the court’s implied determination that it was.

Mother’s
contention that some portions of Joyce’s testimony are not credible—for
example, that Mother had encouraged Joyce’s brother to kill Joyce, and that she
had not arranged for needed medical care—does not demonstrate insufficiency of
the evidence. It is the task of the
dependency court, not this court, to evaluate the witnesses’ respective
credibility; and the dependency court was expressly conscious of its duty to do
so, noting that “some of these issues involved in this case include issues of
credibility.” We recognize also that in
evaluating the conflicting evidence, the dependency court could find evidence
of abuse in Mother’s conduct without necessarily concluding that Mother had
literally intended that Joyce’s brother should kill her.

Mother
points out that the record contains no evidence that Mother was formally diagnosed with a defined mental illness, or
that her mental health problems actually caused serious physical harm to Joyce. But according to Joyce, and confirmed throughout
the record, Mother for some years has displayed seriously paranoid behaviors,
and sometimes cannot fully distinguish truth from falsity. While this condition might not directly
threaten Joyce with physical harm, it nevertheless justifies the court’s
disbelief of Mother’s denials of the petition’s charges, and its conclusion
that Mother is unwilling or unable to change her behavior in the future.

In sum, we
find that the court’s finding of dependency jurisdiction is supported by the
evidence before it. The evidence of
Joyce’s subjection to instances of physical abuse—some of it quite serious, and
some less so—provides a sufficient basis for the court to determine that Mother
engaged in neglectful conduct of the sorts listed in subdivisions (a) and (b)
of section 300, and that Mother’s conduct resulted in “serious physical harm or
illness” to Joyce, and a “substantial risk” of such harm or illness in the
future. And the evidence indicating
Mother’s mental and emotional condition, which apparently “inhibits her ability
to properly care for Joyce” and affects her willingness and ability to prevent
Joyce’s brother from inflicting violence on Joyce and on herself, also
constitutes a sufficient basis for the court’s finding of a substantial risk of
continuing physical harm to Joyce. (>In re Ricardo L. (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th
552, 566.)




>4.
The Dependency Court Did Not
Abuse Its Discretion By Denying Mother’s Request For Self-Representation.


At
the May 12, 2011 detention hearing, Mother asked to be permitted to represent
herself, and she signed and filed a written Advisement And Waiver Of Right To
Counsel. In it, she acknowledged (among
other things) that if she were permitted to represent herself it would be necessary
for her “to follow all the technical rules of substantive law, juvenile court
and civil procedure, and evidence”; that she would not receive any help or
special treatment from the court; and that if the court were to terminate her
right to self-representation, she would then be required to be represented by a
court-appointed lawyer. The court
deferred its ruling on Mother’s request to represent herself until after it had
received and considered the section 730 psychological evaluation that Mother
had requested.

On
June 23, 2011, the court repeated an earlier admonition that although it had
allowed Mother to represent herself at the detention hearing, “the law
indicates that you do not have the absolute right to represent yourself.” The court went on to observe that after
reading the section 730 evaluation (which had been provided to Mother a few
days earlier, it was “very, very, very concerned about what’s happening in this
case and your ability to represent yourself and move it forward at a rapid
pace.” The court based this observation
in part on Mother’s efforts to dispute the psychological evaluation, even when
it was apparent to the court that the evaluator in fact agreed in many respects
with Mother’s belief that the evaluation had limited validity. “What you just said to me and what I read in
the 730 evaluation are complete opposites. . . . But obviously, you think [the evaluator is]
lying and you think that you disagree with what he has to say. Which indicates to me . . . that you don’t
fundamentally grasp what people are writing or saying.”

The
court then advised Mother that unless the case was resolved before trial, “I
will be appointing counsel for you.
Because it is my determination, based on A.M. and Jackson W., that
you are unable to understand and grasp the concepts that are necessary, are
required under the code and under [section] 317 of the Welfare and Institutions
Code [and] case law.”href="#_ftn11"
name="_ftnref11" title="">>[11] For the following 15 pages of transcript the
court then tried (with little apparent success) to focus Mother’s attention on
the issues that were relevant to the upcoming trial, and to explain to her that
the matters she was attempting to argue to the court were of little or no
relevance to those issues. With apparent
exasperation, the court admonished Mother that “[y]ou’re not listening. You’re proving my point. You’re proving the point that the Court of
Appeal set forth in In re A.M., that
you’re all over the place with issues which to you are very important but with
respect to the dependency law aren’t important or less important.”

The
court made a final effort to explain to Mother why she needed counsel: “Focusing on all this stuff that I agree is
not insignificant in terms of your life or what happened to you, but it’s not
really relevant directly to what we’re talking about here, will only confuse
the case, delay, and make the trial longer than it should be and, quite
honestly, . . . it will not be to your benefit.” The court again advised Mother that “[w]hat
you’re focusing on is not helping you.
It’s not helping you. You think
it is, but it isn’t.” The problem with
Mother representing herself, the court advised her, “is that you can’t focus on
what’s important over what’s not important in terms of your daughter.”

Following
the unsuccessful mediation, the court advised Mother that unless she engaged an
attorney of her choice, the court would appoint an attorney for her. At a brief hearing a few weeks later, the
court appointed an attorney for Mother, explaining that “I felt, based upon the
[section] 730 psychological evaluation] . . . and my observations of her and
the fact that she appeared to the court to, at a couple of hearings, to ramble
on about things which are not necessarily relevant, that undue delay and the
child’s right to have the case adjudicated properly under case law and
expeditiously would result.”

The
trial court was justified in denying Mother’s request to represent
herself. As Mother concedes in her
brief, “the right of self-representation in a dependency proceeding is
statutory rather than constitutional.”
We find the record sufficient to justify the trial court’s determination
that Mother’s desire to waive counsel and to represent herself was not so
knowing and intelligent as to require its acceptance by the court, in light of
Mother’s demonstrated inability to understand the proceedings and in light of
the likelihood that her lack of understanding would be so disruptive as to
significantly delay the proceedings.

Subdivision
(b) of Welfare and Institutions Code section 317 provides that when a parent is
financially unable to afford to employ counsel in a juvenile dependency case,
and the child has been placed in out-of-home care, “the court shall appoint
counsel for the parent or guardian, unless the court finds that the parent or
guardian has made a knowing and intelligent waiver of counsel as provided in
this section.” According to >In re Justin L. (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d
1068, the predecessor to this provision affords a statutory right to
self-representation to a parent who makes a knowing and intelligent waiver of
counsel. (Id. at pp. 1075-1076; see also In
re A.M.
, supra, 164 Cal.App.4th
at p. 923; In re Angel W. (2001)
93 Cal.App.4th 1074, 1083.) In >In re Angel W., the court went so far as
to say that a dependency court “must respect the right of the parent to
represent him- or herself as a matter of individual autonomy and avoid forcing
the mentally competent parent to proceed with appointed counsel in the guise of
protecting a person who is unskilled in the law and courtroom procedure.” (93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1084.) In that case, as in In re Justin L., the
Court of Appeal found that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying
the parent’s right to self-representation, but nevertheless concluded that the
error was harmless. (>In re Angel W., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1085; In re Justin L., supra,
188 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1076-1078.)

The trial court acceded to Mother’s request to represent
herself without the assistance of counsel at the initial detention hearing, and
at the pretrial hearings leading up to the jurisdiction/disposition trial. During those proceedings, it had ample
opportunity to observe Mother’s inability to

differentiate the issues that
she considered important from those at issue in the proceedings.

After
the court read the petition’s allegations to Mother, for example, Mother
attempted to present the court with photographs and documents without having
disclosed them to the social worker or investigators, and to persuade the court
that Joyce’s brother was himself a victim of various injuries. After Mother had received her href="http://www.sandiegohealthdirectory.com/">psychological evaluation and
the jurisdictional/dispositional report on June 20 (three days before the date
set for the jurisdiction/disposition trial), she told the court that she had
not had sufficient time to prepare her documents for disclosure to the social
worker. She continued to insist on
telling the court that the social worker, the police, and the mental health
evaluator had lied in their reports, disregarding the court’s repeated
admonitions that the facts she wished to present were required to have been
earlier disclosed to the social worker, and that in any event they would not be
relevant until the trial. The court also
had before it Mother’s psychological evaluation, which assessed her as very
paranoid and delusional, and grossly lacking in insight into her problems. Based on its observations of Mother, and
bolstered by the psychological evaluation, the court determined that Mother was
“unable to understand and grasp the concepts that are necessary” to satisfy the
requirements for an effective waiver of section 317, subdivision (b).

This
record shows Mother’s lack of knowledge, focus, and insight concerning the
issues before the court and her responsibilities with respect to those
issues. It shows that these
circumstances would affect not only Mother’s capacity to knowingly and
intelligently waive her right to counsel,
but would also inevitably result in significant delays in the proceedings. And it shows the awareness of the court and
the parties of the immutable deadline imposed by Joyce’s approaching 18th
birthday. The court was within its
discretion in concluding that Mother lacked the mental capacity to understand
the risks and consequences of foregoing her right to counsel, and that granting
Mother’s self-representation request would be likely to unduly—and
prejudicially—delay the proceedings.

We also conclude that even if the record were not
sufficient to show that Mother lacked the capacity to forego her right to
counsel with an understanding of the probable risks and consequences of such a
choice, the trial court’s error in denying her href="http://www.mcmillanlaw.com/">right to self representation was
harmless. (People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836.) Because a parent’s right to
self-representation in a juvenile dependency proceeding is statutory rather
than constitutional, denial of the right to self-representation is evaluated
under the harmless error standard. (>Angel W., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1085.)
Mother argues that the denial of her right to self-representation was
prejudicial to her case, because if she had been able to control the
presentation of evidence at the jurisdictional hearing, she would have provided
additional testimony and submitted additional evidence to refute that contained
in the evidence. She says in her brief
that she would have brought the laptop computer to show the court that she
could not have injured Joyce’s fingers with it; she would have testified that
she had not deliberately locked Joyce out of her home overnight; that she had
sought medical treatment for Joyce’s eczema; that she would have testified why
she did not report Joyce as a missing person when she left home on May 7, 2011;
and she would have shown that Joyce had obtained a high school diploma.href="#_ftn12" name="_ftnref12" title="">>[12]

Most of these points were addressed in the evidence that
was presented to the court on Mother’s behalf, however. The social worker’s reports show that Mother
had denied all current and past abuse allegations against her. In her testimony at the jurisdiction hearing,
in her interviews with the social worker, and in the 15-page written statement
she had submitted to the court, Mother expressed and explained her denials of
these charges and events. She denied
slamming the computer on Joyce’s fingers (although she did not dispute the
incident with the computer); she denied encouraging Joyce’s brother to kill
her; she denied Joyce’s brother was ever abusive to Joyce or to Mother; she
said that she had taken Joyce to a doctor for her eczema, and that she had the
medicine that had been prescribed for it; she explained why her home was
cluttered; and she explained that she had no intention to lock Joyce out of the
house. Mother was able to present her
version of the facts with respect to each of these events. The ruling denying Mother’s request to represent
herself therefore did not deprive the court of access to Mother’s story.

On this record it is not name="sp_999_9">reasonably probable that
Mother would have obtained a more favorable result if the court had granted her
requests to represent herself. Even if
the court erred in denying Mother’s requests for self-representation, the error
therefore was harmless. On this record
it is not reasonably probable that Mother would have obtained a more favorable
result if the court had granted her request to represent herself.



DISPOSITION



The
jurisdiction and disposition orders are affirmed.

NOT TO BE
PUBLISHED.





CHANEY,
J.



We concur:







MALLANO,
P. J.







JOHNSON,
J.





id=ftn1>

href="#_ftnref1" name="_ftn1" title=""> >[1]
Evidence Code section 730 authorizes court appointment of an expert to
investigate and testify concerning matters before the court.

id=ftn2>

href="#_ftnref2" name="_ftn2" title=""> >[2]
The dependency court found: Mother had “inappropriately disciplined” [Joyce] by
“striking [her] hand with a laptop computer,” and by handing Joyce’s adult
brother a knife and encouraging him to kill Joyce; that Joyce does not wish to
return to the home and Mother’s care due to the physical abuse (§ 300, subd.
(a)1); Mother had “exhibited actions consistent with mental and emotional
problems which inhibit her ability to properly care for [Joyce] and allowed
Joyce to live in a chaotic home environment,” including but not limited to allowing
Joyce’s adult brother to inappropriately discipline Joyce, failing to provide
proper medical care and treatment for Joyce, engaging in physical disputes with
Joyce’s brother in Joyce’s presence, and failing to maintain a safe and clean
home, all of which placed Joyce at risk of harm (§ 300, subd. (b)3); Joyce’s
father, whose whereabouts are unknown, “failed to provide [Joyce] with the
necessities of life including food, clothing, shelter and medical care” (§ 300,
subds. (b)7, (g)1).

id=ftn3>

href="#_ftnref3" name="_ftn3" title=""> [3]
The record reflects the court’s and the parties’ conscious awareness that Joyce
would turn 18 on September 24, 2011.

id=ftn4>

href="#_ftnref4" name="_ftn4" title=""> >[4]
Father did not appear below, and is not a party to this appeal.

id=ftn5>

href="#_ftnref5" name="_ftn5" title=""> >[5]
After January 1, 2012, when the court terminates dependency jurisdiction over a nonminor who has attained the
age of 18, the court maintains general jurisdiction until the nonminor reaches the age of 21,
affording her an opportunity to petition for a resumption of dependency
jurisdiction under certain conditions.
(§§ 303; 388, subd. (e); 391, subd. (d)(2).) However the option to continue dependency
jurisdiction is with the nonminor; the statute affords no such right to the
nonminor’s parent. (§ 303, subds. (c),
(d); 391, subd. (c)(1)(A).)

id=ftn6>

href="#_ftnref6" name="_ftn6" title=""> >[6]
The DCFS Detention Report identifies Mother’s date of birth as February 17,
1953, which (if true) would make her 59 years old at the time of the trial
court’s February 24, 2012 termination of jurisdiction.

id=ftn7>

href="#_ftnref7" name="_ftn7" title=""> >[7]
Report of 08-22-11; Last-Minute Information and attachments dated 8-15-11;
Last-Minute Information and attachments dated 07-07-11; Last-Minute Information
and attachments dated 06-23-11; Jurisdiction/Disposition Report dated 6-23-11;
and Detention Report dated 5-12-11.

id=ftn8>

href="#_ftnref8" name="_ftn8" title=""> >[8]
Joyce reported Mother’s behavior included barricading closets with chains in
fear that the police would take documents, and experiencing auditory
hallucinations, which she believes are the sounds of police recording the
family’s conversations.

id=ftn9>

href="#_ftnref9" name="_ftn9" title=""> >[9]
The opening summary in Mother’s statement continues: “But instead the persons/employees from the
different agencies and departments are the one who are not doing their job
properly and there’s cover up, connivance and conspiracy, done by the different
departments; and we experience discrimination, excessive harassment and torture.”

id=ftn10>

href="#_ftnref10" name="_ftn10" title=""> >[10]
We do not address the court’s findings under subdivisions (b)(7) and (g) of
section 300, which concern only the conduct of Joyce’s father, who did not
appear below and filed no appeal.
Because we reach the merits of this appeal based on the potential future
impact that the challenged orders could have on Mother, we find inapplicable
the authority holding that a jurisdictional determination may be upheld if only
one of its grounds is unchallenged or found to be adequate. (See, e.g., In re Jonathan B. (1992)
5 Cal.App.4th 873, 875; In re Dirk S.
(1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1037, 1045.)

id=ftn11>

href="#_ftnref11" name="_ftn11" title=""> >[11]
The court’s references were to In re A.M.
(2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 914, and In re
Jackson W.
(2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 247.

id=ftn12>

href="#_ftnref12" name="_ftn12" title=""> >[12]
Mother does not suggest that her attorney’s failure to present this evidence
represents ineffective assistance of counsel.




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