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Juvenile's records not protected by counselor/client privilege

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The Howard Superior Court erred in finding that the counselor/client privilege prevented the admission of a son’s counseling records during a custody modification hearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

The trial court ruled that W.B.’s counseling records, which included his counselor’s notes, summaries, risk assessments, and status reports, were privileged and that no exception to the counselor/client privilege applied.

W.B. was adjudicated a delinquent after he admitted to a sexual battery charge against his sister A.B. A.B. and W.B. lived with their mother who had physical custody of the children after the mother and father divorced. When the father learned W.B. had touched his sister inappropriately, he reported it to Child Protective Services and A.B. moved in with her maternal grandparents due to a no-contact order between the siblings.

W.B. went to counseling, in which his social worker found he remained at a high risk to re-offend. W.B. was eventually discharged from treatment, his probation ended, and the no-contact order ended. A.B. moved back in to live with her mother and brother. That’s when the father petitioned for modification of custody seeking physical custody of A.B. due to the threat of potential molestations by W.B.

The trial court denied father’s petition to modify custody, finding A.B. is older and in school, and while the charges are substantial, they aren’t enough to modify custody.

The counselor/client privilege is set forth in Indiana Code Section 25-23.6-6-1, but it is subject to exceptions. I.C. Section 31-32-11-1 abrogates the privilege in proceedings resulting from reports of child abuse.

“The statute has been applied for the most part in criminal prosecutions,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in J.B. v. E.B. No.34A04-1002-DR-110. “But Section 31-32-11-1 is worded broadly and abrogates the enumerated privileges in ‘any judicial proceeding’ resulting from a report of child abuse or ‘relating to the subject matter of the report.’”   

A.B. reported that her brother touched her inappropriately, which led to W.B.’s delinquency proceedings and the father’s petition to modify custody. He wants to prevent further abuse of A.B., and the privileged information concerns the brother’s potential to re-offend.

“In line with the foregoing, we conclude that the instant case is a proceeding within the purview of Section 31-32-11-1 and in which the counselor/client privilege does not apply,” she wrote. “We therefore find the trial court erred in excluding W.B.’s counseling records on the basis of privilege. We also cannot say the error was harmless, given the content of W.B.’s counseling records and the limited grounds on which the trial court based its ruling.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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