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Conservatorship of Person and Estate K.P.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

August 28, 2019

Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of K.P.
v.
K.P., Objector and Appellant. PUBLIC GUARDIAN OF THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Petitioner and Respondent,

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. ZE032603 Robert Harrison, Judge. Affirmed.

          Christian C. Buckley, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Objector and Appellant.

          Office of the County Counsel, Mary C. Wickham, County Counsel, Rosanne Wong, Assistant County Counsel, and William C. Sias, Deputy County Counsel, for Petitioner and Respondent.

          CHAVEZ, J.

         Conservatee K.P. (K.P.) appeals from a judgment entered following a jury trial on the petition by the Public Guardian of the County of Los Angeles (public guardian) for reappointment as K.P.'s conservator under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPSA) (Welf. & Inst. Code § 5000 et seq.).[1] After a three-day trial, the jury found that K.P. was gravely disabled pursuant to the LPSA, and the trial court granted the public guardian's petition for reappointment. K.P. argues that the court erred in instructing the jury pursuant to California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) No. 4000, which sets forth the elements of a claim that an individual is gravely disabled. Specifically, K.P. contends that the trial court erred in omitting a third element from CACI No. 4000, which required a finding that the individual “is unwilling or unable voluntarily to accept meaningful treatment.” We find no reversible error and affirm the judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The LPSA

         “The [LPSA] governs the involuntary detention, evaluation, and treatment of persons who, as a result of mental disorder, are dangerous or gravely disabled. (§ 5150 et seq.)” (Conservatorship of John L. (2010) 48 Cal.4th 131, 142 (John L.).) Under the LPSA, the court may “appoint a conservator of the person for one who is determined to be gravely disabled (§ 5350 et seq.), so that he or she may receive individualized treatment, supervision, and placement (§ 5350.1).” (John L., at p. 142.) The LPSA defines a person who is “gravely disabled” as one who is “unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter.” (§ 5008, subd. (h)(1)(A).)

         “An LPSA conservatorship automatically terminates after one year, and reappointment of the conservator must be sought by petition. (§ 5361.)” (John L., supra, 48 Cal.4th at p. 143.)[2]

         Conservatorship reappointment pretrial proceedings

         On April 19, 2018, the public guardian filed a petition for reappointment as conservator of K.P. under sections 5350 through 5368. On May 5, 2018, K.P. filed a demand for jury trial.

         At the trial readiness conference on June 14, 2018, the public guardian filed a memorandum dated June 12, 2018, containing information from Dr. Sara Mehraban, Program Coordinator at Gateways Satellite, where K.P. was being treated. Dr. Mehraban observed that recently K.P. had become paranoid. In May 2018, he was sitting outside and was accidentally “grazed” by a basketball. He then charged a fellow resident who he attempted to stab with a pen because K.P. believed the other individual had intended to hit him with the basketball. K.P. continued to try to attack the other resident even with staff intervention, and had to be hospitalized because he would not let go of the situation and still wanted to attack the other resident later in the day.

         Dr. Mehraban reported that K.P.'s mother was of the view that K.P. does not have a mental illness. K.P.'s mother also believed that K.P.'s medications were making him act as he did, and she did not believe that the recent reported incident of aggression took place. Dr. Mehraban thought mother's visits were negatively affecting K.P. and intended to revoke them until K.P. improved. Dr. Mehraban was aware of the upcoming trial and wanted the court to be aware of this information.

         Trial

         A three-day jury trial commenced on June 20, 2018. K.P. appeared with his counsel.

         Preliminary matters

         Prior to trial the court addressed the ground rules for trial, emphasizing the need to focus the jurors on the question of whether K.P. was gravely disabled. The court asked counsel not to talk about the length of, or results of, a conservatorship. K.P.'s counsel argued that the jury should be made aware of the length of the conservatorship and that forced medication could be administered against a person's will. The court said counsel should remain within the framework of CACI No. 4000. K.P.'s counsel objected to the instruction. The court ordered K.P.'s counsel not to refer to the time limits of a conservatorship.

         K.P.'s counsel then addressed CACI No. 4000, by arguing, “there was a time where for decades we would have that element three.” K.P.'s counsel conceded that the third element had dropped out of consistent use in CACI No. 4000. However, he advocated for its inclusion here because he intended to show that K.P. was “willing to voluntarily accept treatment.” K.P.'s counsel acknowledged that there had been a “so-called ‘Missouri Compromise'” where the element of willingness and ability to voluntarily accept meaningful treatment had been added to CACI No. 4002, in the very last sentence. K.P.'s counsel argued that this was insufficient because it was “thrown in at the bottom of some other less consequential later jury instruction.”

         The court observed that case law indicated that the version of CACI No. 4000 the court would provide, properly laid out the elements that the public guardian needed to prove in order to show that an individual was gravely disabled. However, the jury should be able to consider willing, voluntary acceptance of treatment, therefore it was included in CACI No. 4002.

         Opening arguments

         The parties provided their respective opening statements to the jury. The public guardian said it would prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that K.P. had a mental disorder, and that as a result of that disorder, K.P. was gravely disabled.

         K.P.'s counsel outlined the evidence that he would provide to show that K.P. was not gravely disabled. Counsel argued, “If anything, the evidence will show that he has a plan to take care of himself.” Counsel stated:

         “So just keep in mind when you're hearing all this evidence, and then, ultimately, you deliberate, it's the county that's got to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that he's gravely disabled which means, look, if he's off conservatorship, he won't have a stable place to stay; that he can't take care of his basic food, clothing, or shelter and because it's going to be an issue here, there is no viable alternative. By ‘alternative' meaning, look, what his family is able to do to help him out, it's not enough. He's still gravely disabled. So they have that extra burden here of showing there is no third-party assistance to help him out and that, ultimately, he's unwilling to seek treatment.”

         K.P.'s counsel finished with “If anything, the evidence shows he's willing to continue with his treatment.”

         Trial testimony

         K.P.'s mother

         K.P.'s counsel called Karen Celestine (mother), K.P.'s mother.[3] On direct examination, mother testified that she believed her son had a mental illness; that she was willing to help him see a psychiatrist and help him fill prescriptions; that she believed he needed to continue taking his medications; and that she would insist that he take his medications if he resisted taking them.

         Mother could not provide housing for K.P. However, she would help him find an apartment or board and care. She agreed to take him to a mental hospital if his symptoms returned or he was resisting taking his medications.

         On cross-examination, mother was asked about her immediate plan for finding K.P. housing if he were to win his jury trial. Mother indicated that she “would find housing, ” by “looking for him and going to talk to the people and... getting quotes and stuff.” When asked where K.P. would be staying during the “interim” period while she looked for housing, she responded, “Well, he's at the facility right now. So I don't know how that works.” K.P.'s medical doctor was still in place, and for his psychiatric and mental health issues, she testified “They refer him. He has referrals.” On redirect, mother indicated that she would work with K.P.'s current social worker on discharge planning. She typically worked during the week and visited K.P. on the weekends.

         Dr. Sara Mehraban

         Dr. Mehraban, the licensed clinical psychologist employed by the residential agency where K.P. was residing, was called by the public guardian to offer her expert opinion. She normally saw K.P. five days a week for ...


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