Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Y.A. v. S.A. (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 3, 2020)

For some reason, I have a different reaction to this case than I typically have to cases arising out of our adversary system.

Normally, I'm pretty much fine with mandatory appeals, appointed counsel, vigorous argument, and the like.  Take criminal cases, for example.  The state's taking away someone's liberty, so we want to make sure we're doing the right thing.  We're not entirely confident that a single judge will necessarily get all facets of the decision right, so we make sure we file an appeal on the defendant's behalf.  Maybe we can't find any colorable arguments so we file an Anders brief.  But if there are tolerable arguments to make on appeal, we make 'em.

I've got not substantial problem with that.  Yes, it costs society some time and money, and isn't necessarily very productive on a practical level.  But the defendant typically wants to at least try, and that seems to me a reasonable request.  So if appointed counsel gives it a shot, fine.  That's the way the system works.

Yet, notwithstanding those general beliefs, when I read this opinion, I thought to myself:  I would not want to be the appointed lawyer for the appellant in this case.

It's a guardianship case.  S.A. (I'll call her "Sarah") is 33 years old, and has some issues.  So the court has appointed her mother, Y.A. ("Yvonne"), as her guardian.  The question is whether that guardianship should continue.

The trial court found that it should.  So Sarah appeals, and her appointed counsel argues on Sarah's behalf.

Of course, Sarah's got a right to counsel, and her liberty's being taken away, so on a systemic level, I've got no problem with the way that system works.

Yet the more I read the opinion, the more I thought:  "I really wouldn't want to be Sarah's lawyer in that case.  I'd feel like I wasn't doing anyone any good."

It's not just that Sarah's not going to win.  That's the usual outcome on appeal, after all.

It's instead that, in truth, Sarah totally needs a guardianship.  So to argue that she shouldn't have one just seems to me to be arguing for something that you know full well is affirmatively bad.

Sarah's essentially has schizophrenia.  She's got an exceptionally distorted version of reality -- all that despite being (involuntarily) medicated.  She believes that Yvonne is not, in fact, her mother, but is instead an illegal alien from India who kidnapped her as a child and needs to be reported to Homeland Security.  Who's Sarah's real parents?  According to Sarah:  Michael Keeton and Michelle Pfeiffer.

One of several problems with this belief is that Sarah has Indian heritage, so doesn't necessarily look like the biological child of Ms. Pfeiffer and Mr. Keeton.  But Sarah believes that she, in fact, "has American features," and further believes that the antipsychotic drugs that she's been forced to take have "darkened her skin" -- which (among other reasons) is why she plans to stop taking them once she no longer has a guardian.  She denies that she has schizophrenia or any other mental illness; instead, she insists it's Yvonne, her kidnapper, who allegedly is the schizophrenic one.

What are Sarah's plans if her guardian is removed and she's released from the hospital.  She plans on "getting a degree in fashion" and "looking for her real parents" to take care of her and reconnect with them.  To say that these plans are, in reality, less than realistic is an understatement.  I feel confident it would not work out well were Sarah to show up unannounced (or otherwise) at Keeton's or Pfeiffer's home.

The point is this:  I feel bad for Yvonne.  As well as Sarah.  It's gotta be extremely tough to deal with a child who's in this situation and who has such a distorted vision of reality.  And, yes, I'm sure it's clearly confusing and frustrating for Sarah, who (by all accounts) sincerely feels like she's been kidnapped and kept from her movie star parents.

But I'm exceptionally confident that the best thing for Sarah is to retain the guardianship, stay in the hospital, and keep trying to get better.  Not because the status quo is awesome.  But rather because the available alternatives are far, far worse.

And I wouldn't really be all that into arguing otherwise.

Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeal agrees with the trial court, and so Y.A. remains her daughter's guardian.  Great.  Everything "works out" in the end as it should.

I just wouldn't personally want to be the person arguing for a different result.