In re William M.W. (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 573
Discovery and Juvenile Dependency Proceedings
Discovery is a frequently overlooked aspect of dependency work because everyone receives the social worker's report before the detention and the jurisdictional hearing and may not have time to adequately consider what witnesses will testify to at these hearings. Generally, the evidence in the report is focused on supporting the information that will support a finding of dependency. The information in the social worker's report is generally a summary of other people's statements (Sanchez issues) and it may not be entirely accurate as the social worker may have mis-represented any information or did not understand the context of the statement.
On filing the petition, the petitioner must promptly make any police report or other report accessible for inspection and copying by the parent and their counsel. Cal Rules of Ct 5.546(b). The petitioner must also disclose any information or evidence that is favorable to the parent. Cal Rules of Ct 5.546(c). Presumably this also falls under Model Rules of Conduct 3.3.
California Rules of Court 5.546 states that discovery should be liberally construed in favor of informal disclosures, absent a showing that privilege or other good cause exists to not disclose. Discovery must be completed in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary delays.
A note: A juvenile court may adapt “local” rules that compel disclosure of witness lists, despite the work product privilege when the moving party shows that it would expedite a hearing, “facilitate court business, and fulfill more effectively the duty imposed on it”. In re Jeanette H. (1990) 225 CA3d 25, 34.
If discovery is not provided immediately as required by Cal Rules of Ct 5.546(b)–(c), a party can request the materials or move for disclosure if the request is refused on privilege grounds (?).
Applying the Civil Discovery Act to dependency proceedings.
In re William M.W. (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 573
The juvenile court is not mandated to order discovery at no cost for parents in dependency proceedings but it holds the discretion to do so when an indigent parent’s may be prejudiced by the financial barrier.
Both parents appeal from the juvenile court’s refusal to order the department to deliver requested discovery electronically and waive all costs in advance of a contested review hearing. Parent’s counsel filed a joint motion to compel discovery. They moved to compel the juvenile court to order that the department provide copies of discovery to both parents at no cost. Additionally both parents sent memos to the department and asked that the discovery be either faxed, provided on a flash drive, or printed. The department refused to comply citing it had fulfilled its duty by making discovery available when it notified parent’s counsel that discovery would be ready for review and once counsel identified the documents they wanted duplicated, the department would provide copies at a rate of $.10 per page.
Parents’ counsel was notified that they would be allowed to [presumably come in] and take pictures of the documents or copy them using their own materials without charge. The department contended that any order compelling it free of charge to parents was foreclosed by Welf & I C because no explicit statute authorizes such an order and it would violate separation of powers principles.
On a hearing regarding this discovery matter, parents’ counsel asserted that free discovery was required citing constitutional principles of due process and equal protection for indigent parents. The department maintained that its obligation does not extend to copying and production of discoverable materials; just making them available for parent’s counsel.
The trial court denied the discovery motion and opined that it was denying the request because it believed the court would “be acting in excess of its authority given the current state of the statutory law”.
The court also noted that the department had already made the discovery available, but parents’ counsel chose to decline to go in person and copy them.
Parents filed their timely notice of appeals.
The court of appeal provides it opinion in which it reversed on the following grounds:
Per California Rule of Court 5.546
“Dependency proceedings in the juvenile court are special proceedings with their own set of rules, governed, in general, by the Welfare and Institutions Code.” (In re Chantal S. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 196, 200.) Prehearing discovery is primarily regulated in the juvenile court by rule 5.546.3 The rule states it is to be “liberally construed in favor of informal disclosures, subject to the right of a party to show privilege or other good cause not to disclose specific material or information”.
Additionally within these rules of court, are several provisions which authorize the juvenile court to regulate the discovery process as needed. The parents assert that the department’s open file policies run contrary to juvenile dependency discovery procedures as it is burdensome and unreasonable for a parent’s counsel to go in person and thus at odds with the department’s duty to disclose discovery under rule 5.546. Additionally, they clarify that “disclosure” within the scope of rule 5.546 should mean the production and delivery of discoverable material at no cost. However, the appellate court found that the department made a better argument.
Rules have the force of dependency statute behind them but a court can pomulagate them to the extent that carrying out the rule shall not be inconsistent with legislative intents and constitutional provisions.
In so far that the administration of these rules comport with existing statutory authority, the rules must be construed so as to implement the purposes of the juvenile court law. Rule 5.501(c)(2).
The words in a statute given their ordinary and usual meaning should be also construed in their statutory context. In this construed in the over arching scheme of dependency law.
If the plain, commonsense meaning of a statute’s words is unambiguous, the plain meaning takes precedent. In determining what the plain meaning is of given words in a statute the meaning must be construed in a context relating to the same over bearing subject matter and should be construed to best harmonize with the import of the dependency act. For words with more than one interpretation a court may consider various “extrinsic aids, including the purpose of the statute, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, and the statutory scheme encompassing the statute”. Catlin v. Superior Court (2011) 51 Cal.4th 300, 304.
Now applying this logic to Rule 5.546 the plain and ordinary meaning of the word disclose is “to open up,” “expose to view,” “to make known,” “to reveal in words,” or to “divulge”. Drawing from criminal discovery statute that construes “disclose” to mean affording a defendant an opportunity to examine, inspect, or copy the discoverable items.
This appellate court found that there was no reason to construe disclose any differently nor was there a need to interpret Local Rule 5.506(a)’s use of the same word as meaning a different level of disclosure.
Rule 5.546’s wording indicates that they intended that disclosure was not synonymous with document production. The rule expressly permits the department to either “deliver” a report or make them “accessible for inspection and copying”. (Rule 5.546(b).) Drawing from the wording of Rule 5.546, “disclosure” under the rule indicates a broader meaning that includes the option of making materials available for review or providing paper or electronic copies.
Juvenile Dependency and