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COA reverses termination over rule violation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split today in its decision to reverse the termination of a mother's parental rights. The majority found the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the mother's trial counsel to withdraw her appearance under a local court rule.

In K.S. v. Marion County Department of Child Services and Child Advocates Inc., No. 49A02-0905-JV-384, mother K.S. claimed the trial court shouldn't have let her attorney withdraw on the date of the final hearing regarding K.S.'s rights to her daughter, A.S. The mother failed to participate in required counseling and classes and failed to appear at the termination hearings. K.S.'s attorney had sporadic contact with her and was unable to reach her by phone. K.S. had moved out of the state and her attorney was only able to reach her by e-mail. The attorney received an e-mail from K.S. asking what happened after she failed to appear at a previous hearing. In her reply, the attorney asked what K.S.'s intentions were and whether she'd be at the final hearing. The attorney also informed K.S. that she wouldn't be able to adequately represent her if K.S. didn't communicate or appear. The attorney never heard back from K.S.

The trial court granted the attorney's motion to withdraw under a Marion Circuit and Superior Court Civil Division rule. Three days later, K.S.'s parental rights were terminated.

Judges Edward Najam and Michael Barnes concluded the trial court abused its discretion in letting the attorney withdraw because she failed to provide written notice to her client or the court at least 10 days before she intended to withdraw.

The judges interpreted the local rule to mean that the good cause exception only applies to the requirement that the attorney's written letter of intent be filed with the court at least 10 days prior to trial, and the other obligations of the local rule imposed on the attorney must still be considered. DCS argued the phrase "or upon good cause shown" would allow the attorney to withdraw even without providing the written notice because she had good cause.

The attorney's e-mail to K.S. didn't constitute the written notice, nor did she file anything with the trial court. K.S.'s rights were prejudiced by the noncompliance with the local rule, wrote Judge Najam, so the majority reversed the trial court, vacated the termination order, and remanded for further proceedings.

"If Mother's attorney complies with the local rule and Mother again fails to appear in person or fails to take the steps necessary to obtain new counsel within a reasonable time, the trial court may reinstate the termination order vacated by this decision," he wrote.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, arguing K.S. put her attorney and the trial court in an untenable position. The attorney couldn't give 10 days notice of her intent to withdraw because she didn't have that intent until K.S. failed to appear at the hearing. Under these circumstances, good cause was shown for not filing the letter.

"Had the trial court denied the request to withdraw and continued with the hearing, the attorney would have sat there as a potted plant, and the result would have been exactly the same as it is now - Mother's parental rights would have been terminated," he wrote.

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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