Stoel Rives Prevails in Appeal Case for Guardianship of Idaho Ten-Year-Old

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Stoel Rives LLP attorneys Christopher Pooser and Anna Courtney (with support from Boise litigation summer associate Rollo Scott) prevailed in an appeal that concerned the guardianship of a ten-year-old child — resulting in a published opinion from the Idaho Supreme Court and in the course of which they set new precedent (or at least clarified the law) that, because of potential conflicts of interest, one person cannot serve as both the attorney and the guardian ad litem of a child in guardianship proceedings.

The ten-year-old’s parents both passed away in 2017, after which the child’s aunt and a family friend with whom the child and her mother had been living both petitioned for guardianship. The magistrate court appointed a local attorney to serve as both the attorney and guardian ad litem for the child. When it became clear that the local attorney was acting as a guardian ad litem and not as the child’s attorney, the friend moved to have a separate attorney appointed to represent the child. The magistrate court denied the motion. After trial, the magistrate court followed the local attorney’s recommendation — appointing the aunt as the child’s permanent guardian, leading to an appeal from the friend.

The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the decree appointing the aunt as the child’s permanent guardian, reasoning that the magistrate court: (1) erred by appointing the local attorney as both the child’s attorney and the child’s guardian ad litem; and (2) abused its discretion by summarily denying the request for an attorney without conducting a hearing to determine the child’s maturity level. The Court recognized the different roles served by a child’s attorney and  guardian ad litem in guardianship proceedings and returned the case to the magistrate court for a new trial so that it could conduct a hearing to determine whether the child is capable of “sufficient maturity to direct [an] attorney.”

The Stoel Rives attorneys represented the child on a pro bono basis, and in his opinion, Chief Justice Burdick wrote, “No costs are awarded on appeal; however, we take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the attorneys who represented Jane [Doe] pro bono in this case. While that fact did not affect the outcome of this appeal, the Court encourages counsel to make the time to make a difference through the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, as counsel did in this case.”

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