Georgia High Court to Hear Controversial Walton County Juvenile Case

Walton County, Ga. child, known only as W.L.H., is appealing a ruling that denied him access to his own proceedings about where he should live. Proceedings begin Monday.

Loganville attorney Lori Duff is arguing a case in front of the Georgia Supreme Court next week that has drawn national attention from the American Bar Association and child advocacy groups nationwide.

According to a report in AtLaw.com, the outcome of the appeal will decide whether the child should have been allowed to be present when his case was being discussed. It will also decide whether a child can appeal a ruling even when a court-appointed guardian, charged with making decisions in his or her best interests, is against it.

Walton County Juvenile Court Judge Stanley Rhymer ruled in 2010, when the child was 12, that he couldn’t be present during proceedings about where he should live. According to court briefs, His father is deceased and the whereabouts of his mother is unknown. The child has been living with an older cousin and her husband.

Duff, as the child's attorney, appealed the exclusion of his presence during proceedings, but Rhymer's ruling was upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, has now agreed to hear the appeal, albeit against the wishes of the court-appointed guardian who does not wish to proceed. According to AtLaw.com, the office of the Georgia Attorney General, Sam Olsen, also has opposed the Supreme Court’s consideration of the issue.

An article published on Sept. 24 in ABA Now, a publication for the 400,000-member strong ABA, outlines the case. It reports that the ABA is urging the Supreme Court of Georgia, “in a case being watched nationally by state courts and child advocate groups," to hold that a minor who is the subject of a child-welfare proceeding, and is represented by a lawyer, has standing to appeal the trial court’s decision. It goes on to state that this should be so even when the court appointed non-lawyer advocate, charged with presenting information about the child’s best interests, objects to the appeal.

Appeal proceedings begin in Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 1.

Correction: The Court of Appeals did not uphold Rhymer's ruling, it refused to hear the appeal.

Lori Duff September 26, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Thanks, Sharon, for this great article highlighting this important decision that is about to be made affecting the rights of Georgia's children. I did want to point out one factual error -- the Court of Appeals did not uphold Judge Rhymer's ruling. Rather, the Court of Appeals said they wouldn't even hear the case, because WLH himself asked for them to hear it and not his legal guardians or his guardian ad litem.


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