May 14, 2012 — In a recent opinion regarding children’s appearances in dependency court proceedings, the Florida Supreme Court adopted parts of a proposed amendment to the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure that was written by two law students from the University of Miami.
The students, Melissa Rossman and Caitlin Saladrigas, members of the law school’s Children & Youth Law Clinic, prepared a brief in which they commented on rules proposed by the Florida Bar Juvenile Rules Committee. In the brief, Rossman and Saladrigas laid out the constitutional, statutory, human rights, therapeutic jurisprudence, and public-policy reasons for mandating that children appear at their own dependency court proceedings.
The court adopted a rule requiring state dependency court judges to ensure that children be given an opportunity to appear and be heard in such hearings. Although the court did not adopt the precise language proposed on behalf of the clinic and three other child-advocacy organizations, the adopted amendment incorporates many of the suggestions made in the law students’ brief. Justice Barbara Pariente’s concurring opinion echoes several policy arguments in the brief that favor strengthening a child’s right to be present and heard in dependency proceedings.
Rossman, a third-year student, and Saladrigas, who graduated from the School of Law last year, worked on the brief with the director of the Children and Youth Law Clinic, Bernard P. Perlmutter, and in conjunction with Florida’s Children First, a statewide legal aid program that fights for the legal rights of at-risk children; Florida Youth SHINE, a youth-run, peer-driven organization working to change the culture of Florida’s foster care system; and Legal Aid Service of Broward County, which provides free legal advice, representation, and education to the disadvantaged of Broward County.
Perlmutter, an associate professor of clinical legal education at the School of Law, said that the judges — and in particular Justice Pariente, in her concurring opinion — “clearly agreed with many of our arguments.”
Since the clinic’s founding in 1995, Perlmutter said, “our clinic has been able to influence changes in Florida law in favor of foster care children through its advocacy in cases like this.”
The students’ brief urged the court to adopt a rule to the effect that children have a right to attend all hearings. The document also places the burden of transporting the child to proceedings on the Department of Children and Families, and directs the court to conduct an inquiry when the child is not present to determine the child’s expressed wish in the matter.
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