Appellate Court Victory for Lexi

April 05, 2017

On March 21, 2016, CLC client Alexandria P., known as “Lexi,” was unwillingly propelled into the national spotlight by way of a media (and social media) frenzy brought about by her foster parents when a California appellate court ordered her placed with her family in Utah.   Maybe you saw the tabloid-style headlines screaming something like, "Choctaw Girl Ripped from the Only Family She's Ever Known,” or caught sight of a news clip featuring tearful vigils outside the foster parents' home.   California law protects the privacy of children in foster care, and as Lexi’s case wound its way through the appellate courts, CLC also fiercely guarded our client’s privacy and right to confidentiality.  Because of its unusually lengthy trajectory through the court system, with 3 hearings before the Courts of Appeal, and two published opinions, much information has been made known to the public. CLC is now able to shed some light on the real facts and issues raised by this case, and to highlight the pivotal role played by Lexi’s CLC attorney Jennifer McCartney in finally bringing this case, and Lexi’s ordeal, to a just and happy conclusion. 

By the time this case became a media firestorm, Lexi’s relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents) had already been waiting for her to come live with them in Utah for almost 2 years.  The court had ordered Lexi to be sent to live with her relatives three times. Each time, the foster parents filed appeals arguing that she should stay with them, causing further delays stretching into years. During that time, Lexi’s relatives consistently visited with her, spoke with her on the phone, and provided support from a distance as they waited for the Court’s final ruling. In July 2017, the appellate court upheld the juvenile court’s decision that it was in Lexi’s best interests to live with her relatives; Lexi’s foster parents’ further attempts to appeal that decision were denied.  Due in large part to CLC attorney Jennifer McCartney's advocacy on Lexi's behalf, she was able to bond with her relatives throughout the process, ultimately making her move to live with them a smooth and peaceful transition despite the media circus that unfortunately surrounded this case.

Lawyers who read appellate opinions for a living know how unusual it is for the Court of Appeal to discuss trial attorney conduct, and when they do, it’s usually to point out deficiencies in the attorney’s representation of their client. Not so in Lexi’s case.  The Court of Appeal opinion repeatedly cited to Jennifer McCartney’s active and sensitive participation in the case, demonstrating how her advocacy was guided by her full understanding of the law, her client’s wishes, and her client’s ultimate best interests.  In its final opinion on this case, the Court of Appeal noted with approval that "The record demonstrates that minor's trial counsel was consistently focused on the best interests of her client Alexandria, and comported herself in a professional and ethical manner."  The court explained that Minor's counsel alone has a legal and ethical obligation to represent the child's interests.  While others may try to assert the child’s interest, they don’t have the right to do so “because the child, in this case, Alexandria has her own counsel, who represents her interests and also acts as her guardian ad litem.” Further citing In re Zamer G. (2007)  the Court reiterated  "it is the attorney's role to make a reasonable, independent determination of the minors' best interests." 

Happily, Lexi is now thriving in the care of her family in Utah, and we congratulate Jennifer McCartney for her incredible dedication to Lexi and to all of her clients. Lexi’s case is a daily reminder that each and every CLC client is not only entitled to, but desperately needs, a highly qualified attorney who will fight with singular vision to ensure that their wishes are known, and their interests are protected.