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CT: Public Defender Immunity from Legal Malpractice Claims

Gombert v. Herzner, Conn. Super., September 9, 2010 (Unpublished)

CT: Underlying child abuse case

Facts: Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, who was appointed by the court as an attorney for his minor child in a neglect case against the child’s mother. During the course of such representation, the defendant filed a petition for termination of parental rights as to the plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that he suffered loss of communication with his daughter and emotional stress as a result of defendant’s negligently filed petition for termination of his parental rights. Plaintiff also alleged legal malpractice against defendant for deviating from the standard of care required by attorneys who represent children, and for failing to advocate the position of the child.

The Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing that she is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity as an attorney for a minor child, and that plaintiff lacks standing to pursue his claims against the defendant.
Issue: Is Defendant is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity as an attorney appointed to represent a minor child?

Ruling: Yes. Attorneys appointed by the court pursuant to statutory law of Connecticut are entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity for actions taken during or activities necessary to the performance of functions that are integral to the judicial process. The purpose of appointing counsel for a minor child is to ensure independent representation of the child’s interests, and such representation must be entrusted to the professional judgment of appointed counsel within the usual constraints applicable to such representation. Absolute immunity in this situation is both appropriate and necessary in order to ensure that the guardian will be able to function without the worry of possible later harassment and intimidation from dissatisfied parents.

The Court ruled that plaintiff also lacked standing to bring this legal malpractice action against defendant because there was never an attorney-client relationship between the defendant and plaintiff. And while plaintiff attempted to argue next of friend of the minor child, it has been recognized by the Connecticut Supreme Court that in order to have standing to bring a claim as next of friend, a person must “1) must be truly dedicated to the best interests of the person on whose behalf he seeks to litigate…[and] 2) must provide an adequate explanation such as inaccessibility, mental incompetence, or other disability why the real party in interest cannot appear on his own behalf to prosecute the action.” The plaintiff in this case fails to meet the criteria and, therefore, lacks standing.

Lesson: Court appointed counsel for minor children are entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity.

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Posted in: Connecticut, Family Law