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Conservatorship of the Person of B.C.

Filed December 16, 2016, Second District, Div. Six

Cite as B270310

Appellant B.C. suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage from the combined effects of methamphetamine and alcohol usage, resulting in physical and mental deficits. B.C. later married Jessie M., with whom she had previously abused drugs and had a daughter. A neuropsychologist determined that B.C.’s cognitive deficits made her vulnerable to fraud. When B.C.’s aunt C.S. petitioned for appointment as probate conservator of B.C.’s person, B.C. and Jessie hired a private attorney to oppose the petition, and that attorney demanded a jury trial. Because of B.C.’s lack of capacity to hire a lawyer, the Court appointed instead a public defender who did not renew the demand for a jury trial. After a bench trial, the court appointed C.S. as conservator of B.C.’s person.

The court of appeal affirmed. Prior cases held that the trial court must obtain the personal waiver of a jury trial from the conservatee in conservatorship proceedings under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. Similarly, a personal waiver is required in cases involving the involuntary commitment of a mentally disordered offender. But, those situations are distinguishable because a probate conservator has no power to place a conservatee in a locked facility against her will. While the Probate Code allows a jury trial in conservatorship cases, it does not mandate one in every case where it is not affirmatively waived, which is the rule in involuntary commitment situations. The trial court here erred when it failed to advise B.C. of her right to a jury trial, but the error was harmless because she was represented by counsel who had authority to forego a jury trial. Similarly, B.C’s argument that the court did not consult her about the conservatorship failed because her sentiments were represented to the Court by her attorney.

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