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In Re M.L. et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. A.L

November 9, 2012


APPEAL from the Superior Court of San Bernardino County. Barbara A. Buchholz, Judge. (Super.Ct.Nos. J238495 & J238496)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller J.




No appearance for Minors.

Minors M.L. (born September 2008) and E.L. (born December 2005) (collectively minors) came to the attention of San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (the department) on April 5, 2011, when father reported allegations of mother's mental incapacity and general neglect of minors. Father reported mother had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He reported mother had been taken off her medication. Mother had been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold on January 9, 2011, when mother was found walking with minors in 40-degree, wet weather; mother and minors were wearing only pajamas and socks without shoes; minors were wet from the knees down; mother reportedly stated that M.L. was pregnant and purportedly requested scissors to extricate the fetus. Father retained custody of minors since mother's psychiatric hold, but allowed her supervised visitation after she was released; however, on April 4, 2011, mother refused to return minors to him. Mother reported incidents of domestic violence at the hands of father.

On April 18, 2011, minors were placed in protective custody with the maternal aunt. On April 20, 2011, the department filed a Welfare and Institutions Code*fn1 section 300 petition with respect to minors with allegations against both mother and father. The juvenile court detained minors on April 21, 2011. On August 16, 2011, the court ordered the release of all mother's previously existing psychiatric records to the department. On September 9, 2011, after permitting admission of evidence of mother's previous psychiatric records during the contested jurisdictional and dispositional hearing, the juvenile court found the allegations against mother true, removed minors from mother's custody, issued a family law order granting custody of minors to father, and dismissed the petition. Mother appeals, contending evidence of her psychiatric records should not have been disclosed to the department and was inadmissible at the hearing. We agree with mother. The judgment is, therefore, reversed and the matter remanded to the juvenile court to hold a new jurisdictional hearing.


At the time of the initial report, mother lived with maternal grandmother; however, maternal grandmother worked and left minors alone with mother. The social worker met with mother on April 7, 2011. Mother admitted having been placed on involuntary psychiatric holds several times. She admitted leaving her sister's home three months earlier because she feared for minors' lives. Mother admitted she had stopped taking her medication because her doctor was trying to wean her off it. Mother said she was following her mental health treatment plan including taking all of her medication.*fn2 Mother disclosed father drank heavily, drives intoxicated, and was involved in incidents of domestic violence.

The social worker met with minors away from mother on the same date: "Both children appeared healthy and well cared for. No visible marks or bruises were noted." The social worker met with mother again on April 14, 2011. The social worker met with mother and father separately on April 18, 2011. After the social worker consulted with her supervisor, manager, and other department staff, it was decided to obtain a warrant to take minors into protective custody. The department felt father had sufficient information about mother's mental health issues and plenty of time to have attempted to obtain custody of minors himself.

On April 20, 2011, the department filed a juvenile dependency petition alleging mother suffered from a mental illness that impaired her ability to provide adequate supervision for minors (B-1), had a history of domestic violence that placed the minors at risk of physical and emotional abuse (B-2), father had a history of domestic violence that placed the minors at risk of physical and emotional abuse (B-3), and had left minors in the custody of mother despite knowing she struggled with mental health issues that impaired her ability to provide adequate supervision for minors (B-4). The court detained minors on April 21, 2011.

The department issued a jurisdiction/disposition report on May 10, 2011, which included details from the social worker's meetings with mother on April 30 and May 4, 2011. Mother denied having any mental health issues prior to 2009. She reported working for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department as a jailer, during which she experienced a traumatic event resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mother admitted she had been involuntarily hospitalized from February 23 to 27, 2009. She admitted to other hospitalizations, but would not elaborate on the circumstances; she contended she had been immediately released during the latter hospitalizations because there was no cause to keep her. Mother provided the social worker with a disability claim dated February 23, 2010, which indicated a diagnosis of anxiety disorder.

Mother contended her involuntary hospitalization on January 9, 2011, derived from having bad dreams about minors' safety due to her PTSD. She denied making any statements regarding anyone being pregnant. She admitted that for the 10 months prior to January she was treating herself and not taking her prescribed medications. She reported she was now taking Serequel daily and had her next doctor's appointment scheduled for May 9, 2011. Mother admitted that after her release from hospitalization in January, father believed she was having supervised visitation, but mother's family was allowing her to have unmonitored contact with minors.

Maternal grandmother reported "that prior to taking medication, the mother was very paranoid and had memory loss." The department requested mother sign a release of information so that it could obtain mother's psychiatric records; mother refused. Father stated he had no knowledge of mother's mental health issues prior to January 2011, though he stated they had been a couple until that month. Father also admitted he knew mother had been hospitalized in May 2010.

Mother gave father a letter in 2010, to be opened only in the event of her death. Father opened it after her hospitalization in January 2011. The letter, dated May 10, 2010, began, "If you are reading this I am dead or incarcerated, by President Obama for fear of impeachment." It continued to exposit a scenario whereby mother had fallen in love with an incarcerated inmate who was an undercover FBI agent, the FBI installed a number of bugging devices and camera equipment in her home with which it was able to watch her every move and send messages through her television and radio, and eventually came to her house and kept her awake for a 48-hour interrogation until it finally released her.

Mother had been treated on an outpatient basis from February 22, 2009, to October 9, 2009, for paranoid ideation, anxiety, hypervigilance, and avoidance. She had been involuntarily hospitalized five times since February 2009. On May 12, 2011, the parties requested mediation; the court set a mediation for June 16, 2011. On June 9, 2011, the department filed a motion requesting the court order Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC) to release mother's mental health records. The mediation report, dated June 16, 2011, reflected the department agreed to dismiss the B-2 and B-3 allegations. At a hearing on June 20, 2011, mother objected to the department's motion for release of her records based on her doctor-patient privilege. The court denied the department's motion based on mother's assertion of privilege.

On June 21, 2011, the department issued a subpoena duces tecum directed to ARMC to produce all its records pertaining to mother. At a hearing on June 24, 2011, the custodian of records for ARMC appeared with all mother's mental health records under seal. The juvenile court took possession of the records under seal, but offered mother's counsel the "opportunity to file any appropriate motion." The court also afforded mother's counsel the opportunity to go through the records to determine which records she would object to and upon what grounds. On July 14, 2011, mother filed objections to release of her psychiatric records. She contended all the documents were privileged and the juvenile court should not even review the documents in camera itself.

On July 25, 2011, the department filed its response to mother's objections. It requested the court review the documents and determine the validity of any claims of privilege. The department also requested access to the documents to enable it to respond to any claims of privilege.

In an addendum report filed July 26, 2011, the social worker reported she had obtained three law enforcement crises reports related to mother's mental health issues. In a crisis intervention report by a deputy dated October 28, 2010, the deputy noted he was dispatched to the residence when mother's sister reported mother was acting very strangely, was off her medication, and threatened to hurt minors. Mother said the CIA was watching her; cameras and listening devices had been placed within the house. Mother had reportedly been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and anxiety disorder.

In a crisis intervention report dated January 9, 2011, the responding deputy wrote that mother said her uncle was pregnant, she was found walking in 40-degree weather in the rain without shoes or a jacket, and told him the whole world was pregnant. A responding deputy sheriff reported in a crisis intervention report dated February 12, 2011, that mother stated the maternal grandmother was inhabited by demons who needed to be taken out, was hallucinating, and "having absurd thoughts not based in reality." She was taken to ARMC.

At a hearing on August 16, 2011, the juvenile court, over mother's objections, ordered release of all her medical records to the department, but ordered that any documents from those records that the department intended to attach to its memoranda be filed separately under seal. In an addendum report filed August 29, 2011, the social worker recommended the B-2 and B-3 recommendations be dismissed, the B-1 and B-4 allegations be found true, minors be returned to father, and the juvenile dependency petition be dismissed with family ...

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