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D.C. Circuit Vacates Appointment of Guardian

(CN) - A federal judge improperly appointed a court guardian for the plaintiff in a copyright dispute over the design of the United Arab Emirates embassy, the D.C. Circuit ruled. A three-judge panel said the lower court needed to give the plaintiff architect "clear notice and an opportunity to be heard."

Elena Sturdza sued the UAE for conspiracy to commit sex discrimination, and accused rival architect Angelos Demetriou and his firm of copyright infringement. The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., affirmed dismissal of the sex discrimination claim in 2002, but revived the copyright claims and remanded.

Sturdza, acting as her own attorney, petitioned the Supreme Court for review. She also claimed that her former lawyer, Nathan Lewin, conspired to sabotage her case.

Citing this behavior and his own interactions with the plaintiff, Lewin asked the appeals court to appoint a guardian ad litem. The court remanded, and the district court referred the issue to a magistrate judge, who said Sturdza did not appear incompetent.

But two years later, the district court appointed a guardian, concluding that Sturdza was "incapable of rational decision-making."

The appeals court found that the lower court acted too soon, without allowing a proper hearing.

The federal judge "should have ordered her to show cause why a guardian should not be appointed and informed her that in determining whether to appoint one, it would consider any failure on her part to comply or submit to psychiatric evaluation," the appellate court wrote.

The judges vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

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