Trusts and Estates

Conservatorship of the Person of Joanne R.

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Cite as B310906
Filed December 17, 2021, Second District, Div. Seven

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Headnote: LPS Conservatorships ā€“ Right to Jury Trial ā€“ Waiver

Summary: Trial court did not improperly induce LPS conservatee to waive jury trial by stating that she could have a court trial immediately or wait nine months for a jury trial, and the conservateeā€™s waiver was knowing and intelligent even though she was not specifically advised that she, through counsel, had the right to participate in jury selection.

Joanne R. was placed under an LPS conservatorship after the court found that she was gravely disabled, and unable to provide for her personal needs as a result of mental illness.  Joanne contested the conservatorship when it came for renewal for the second time.  Although LPS conservatorship trials are to take place within 10 days, the court found good cause to continue the trial for almost two months based on the pandemic and its effect on the courtā€™s calendar.  On the day of the trial, the court advised Joanne of her right to a court or jury trial.  The court explained that a jury would consist of 12 people from the community, who after hearing evidence, would have to decide unanimously whether the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that she is gravely disabled. The court further explained that with a court trial, the judge would hear the evidence and make a decision, and that if Joanne wanted a jury trial, the matter would have to be continued for nine months.  Joanne waived her right to a jury trial so that the trial could proceed with the court that day.  The court granted the petition for reappointment. Joanne appealed on the grounds that the courtā€™s jury trial waiver advisement was inadequate and improper.

The appellate court affirmed.  An LPS conservatee must personally waive her right to a jury trial, and such waiver must be voluntary, knowing, and intelligent depending on the unique facts of each case.  Accordingly, lower courts are recommended to provide a jury trial waiver advisement that explains the mechanics of a jury trial including, but not necessarily limited to, the following: (1) a jury is made of 12 members of the community; (2) a conservatee, through her counsel, may participate in jury selection; (3) all 12 jurors must unanimously agree; and (4) if a jury trial is waived, a judge alone will decide the case.  Ultimately, the court has discretion to consider the conservateeā€™s circumstances and exercise judgment in deciding how best to ensure that a particular conservateeā€™s waiver is knowing and intelligent.  Here, the courtā€™s advisements were appropriate in light of the totality of the circumstances and Joanneā€™s waiver was voluntary, knowing, and intelligent.

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