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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Mary Beth Searles Childrens Law Center 303-302-9910 msearles@childlawcenter.


Colorado Supreme Court Denies Abused and Neglected Children Meaningful Legal Representation (Denver, CO) October 24, 2011 Today the Colorado Supreme Court released an opinion that denies children in the Colorado child protection system effective legal representation by depriving them of the opportunity to have confidential conversations with the attorneys appointed to protect their best interests. We are deeply disappointed by this ruling, said Stephanie Villafuerte, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Childrens Law Center, a local nonprofit organization that provides legal advocacy for abused and neglected children. The Colorado Supreme Court has decided that abused children are not entitled to one of the most basic benefits of legal representation, which is having a trusting, confidential relationship with an attorney. The underlying case, People v. Gabriesheski, involved a man charged criminally with abusing his step-daughter. While that case was pending, the department of human services filed a case in juvenile court, and an attorney was appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child victim. During the criminal case, the prosecutors attempted to call the GAL to testify about her private conversations with the victim. Both lower courts held that the conversations between the victim and her GAL were protected by attorney-client privilege. Today the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, ruling that conversations between children in the child protection system and their GALs are not confidential. In a strongly worded dissent, Colorado Supreme Court Justices Alex J. Martinez and Michael L. Bender concluded that this ruling will have devastating effects on the ability of GALs to fully represent the best interests of children. Jeff Koy, the director of litigation of the Childrens Law Center, who has served as a court-appointed GAL for more than 12 years, argued in this case that conversations between GALs and children should be protected.

Children have a right to be in a safe home and receive the treatment services they need. GALs are charged with ensuring that children are provided these protections. To do this effectively, children must be able to trust us, said Koy. They have to be able to confide in us about where they feel safe and what happened to them without fear of having their confidences betrayed. Otherwise, the very people who abused them may learn what the child said. The children we represent have often been through horrific abuse before landing in state care, Koy said. They need someone to confide in. Until today, that person was their GAL. About Rocky Mountain Childrens Law Center Childrens Law Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1981, provides legal advocacy for victims of child abuse and neglect with the goal of securing a permanent, nurturing environment for every child. Childrens Law Center protects more than 1,500 child victims each year; many of these children are growing up in foster care. A recognized leader in child advocacy for 30 years, Childrens Law Center has been instrumental in improving the child welfare system. www.childlawcenter.org