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Representation of Absent Respondent in Dependency Proceeding

Adopted: July 16, 2004

Opinion rules that a lawyer who is appointed to represent a parent in a proceeding to determine whether the parent's child is abused, neglected, or dependent, must seek to withdraw if the client disappears without communicating her objectives for the representation, and, if the motion is denied, must refrain from advocating for a particular outcome.


At an initial non-secure custody proceeding, Attorney is appointed by the court to represent Mother who is a respondent in a proceeding brought by the local department of social services to determine whether Mother's minor son is an abused, neglected, or dependent juvenile. Another lawyer is appointed to represent Father. Although Mother is present at the time of the appointment, she and Father subsequently disappear. At the time of the appointment, Attorney had minimal conversation with Mother and he does not know what position she would take in the proceedings.

"Dependent juvenile" is defined in the Juvenile Code, G.S. 7B-101(9), as "[a] juvenile in need of assistance or placement because the juvenile has no parent, guardian, or custodian responsible for the juvenile's care or supervision or whose parent, guardian, or custodian is unable to provide for the care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement."

Attorney knows that the parents are missing and, therefore, there is no parent responsible for the son's care. May Attorney advocate for an adjudication of dependency in the proceeding?


No. As stated in Rule 1.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, "…a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation…." Comment [1] adds that the rule "confers upon the client the ultimate authority to determine the purposes to be served by legal representation, within the limits imposed by law and the lawyer's professional obligations." If the client is not present to give instructions to the lawyer as to the objectives of the representation, the lawyer may not substitute his own objectives even if the facts appear to support a particular position.

A lawyer is required to make a motion to withdraw when the client has disappeared and the lawyer is ignorant of the client's objectives for the litigation. RPC 223. Such a motion is appropriate only after the lawyer has used reasonable diligence to locate the client but is unsuccessful. Id.

If Attorney's motion to withdraw is denied, Attorney may participate in the proceedings to the limited extent that such participation is consistent with the known objectives of the missing client and the court's order of appointment. However, Attorney may not advocate for any particular position or outcome in the proceeding and Attorney does not have a duty to file an appeal.

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