Guardian Ad Litem Appointed For Incapacitated Litigant

MAY 13, 2002 VOLUME 9, NUMBER 46

Ralph Blakely, Jr., signed himself in to a mental health treatment facility for the first time in 1972. Despite treatment he received from time to time over the next quarter century, he continued to suffer from delusions, hallucinations and impaired memory.

Mr. Blakely married in 1973. He and his wife Yolanda owned various businesses over the years, including a dairy farm, an orchard, and other properties. He apparently continued to live a tumultuous life; by 1995 the couple had been involved in over 60 lawsuits. Partly to protect their assets from possible creditors the Blakelys created a trust to hold title to most of their property.

In 1995 Mr. Blakely’s legal troubles began to escalate. First his wife filed for a dissolution of their marriage. A year later the trustee of the trust which the couple had created asked the court to compel Mrs. Blakely to account for her use of trust assets; she argued that Mr. Blakely, his father and son were liable for any shortages.

Mr. Blakely elected to represent himself in the trust and dissolution actions. About three weeks before the trust trial, however, he was arrested for kidnapping his wife and son, and he went to jail pending a trial on those charges.

The attorneys appointed to represent Mr. Blakely in his criminal trial asked the court in the trust and dissolution actions to appoint a guardian ad litem (usually referred to as a “GAL”) in those proceedings. The GAL would be able, they argued, to determine what would be in Mr. Blakely’s best interests, and to manage the litigation without exposing him to further criminal problems. Although the court initially denied the request a local attorney was ultimately appointed to serve as guardian ad litem.

The trust case was the first of Mr. Blakely’s three legal problems to be resolved. His GAL helped negotiate a resolution of the claims and counterclaims, and the court approved the settlement.

Next Mr. Blakely faced the criminal charges arising from his having kidnapped his wife and son. A jury heard that matter and decided that his mental condition was not so serious as to prevent him from participating in own trial. Armed with that finding Mr. Blakely asked that his GAL be dismissed in the trust and dissolution matters so that he could once again represent himself. Those requests were denied and he appealed.

The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s determination that Mr. Blakely needed a GAL to make decisions in his best interests. Court rules allow for appointment of a GAL when a litigant is unable to understand the significance of legal proceedings. A full hearing on the request was not required since he did not object until after the appointment. Marriage of Blakely and Blakely, April 25, 2002.

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