Weighing restrictions on the “unlicensed practice of law,” a South Florida appeals court has said a mother can represent her disabled daughter in a dispute with the state Agency for Health Care Administration about Medicaid benefits.
The mother, identified only by the initials V.R., represented her 13-year-old daughter in an administrative hearing at the Agency for Health Care Administration. That hearing led to an order that was appealed to the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal.
The agency asked the court to determine whether V.R. could represent her daughter in the appeal, and The Florida Bar has not approved a rule that would address the issue, according to Wednesday’s decision by a panel of the appeals court.
The decision said V.R. cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent her daughter, identified by the initials A.C., and pointed to several reasons for allowing the mother to provide representation.
“If this court is to be ‘open to every person for redress of any injury,’ A.C. should be allowed her day in court,” said the decision, quoting part of the Florida Constitution. “It is illogical to provide A.C. an administrative hearing by allowing her non-attorney mother, V.R., to be her authorized advocate, but to then bar V.R. from appearing in, or prosecuting, an appeal from that administrative ruling to this court unless she can apply her scant resources to hiring an attorney.”
The decision, however, also appeared to invite attorneys to volunteer to represent the daughter. “Noting that no initial brief has yet been filed in the case by, or on behalf of, V.R. and A.C., we take the further step of abating this case for 60 days to allow a non-profit legal service provider or Florida-licensed attorney to volunteer pro bono assistance to the appellant (A.C) in this case, in the event one steps forward after reading this opinion,” said the decision, written by Judge Vance Salter and joined by judges Norma Lindsey and Bronwyn Miller.