ILNews

Lawyers can't appeal termination without parent's authorization

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The Indiana Supreme Court held Tuesday that although parents have a statutory right to appellate counsel to appeal an order ending their parental rights, a parent’s trial lawyer cannot pursue an appeal without the parent’s authorization.

The justices unanimously affirmed the denial by the juvenile court in appointing appellate counsel to represent mother M.L. in an appeal of the involuntary termination of the parent-child relationship order. M.L.’s son, I.B., was born with drugs in his system and later found to be a child in need of services. M.L.’s mother served as the primary caregiver of I.B. M.L. moved back in with her mother, but often drank and did not consistently participate in required drug screenings and services in order to get her son back.

An attorney was appointed to represent M.L. at a termination hearing, but the attorney and the state couldn’t reach the mother. The juvenile court terminated her parental rights and also denied her court-appointed attorney’s motion for the appointment of appellate counsel. The attorney said he did not wish to do the appeal and that he filed notice because he was obligated under the terms of his contract. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of I.B.; M.L. v. IDCS, No. 03S05-1004-JV-218, the justices found that Indiana Code provides parents the right to representation by counsel in termination proceedings, including appeals. They also held that an attorney should not file an appeal when the attorney can’t get in touch with his client and learn whether she wants to appeal.

Justice Frank Sullivan cited several Rules of Professional Conduct that provide general guidance on this issue, including Rule 1.2 and Rule 1.4. He also cited several cases from other jurisdictions that have considered this issue in family law matters.  

“An appeal of a decision to terminate parental rights, by its very nature, causes delay and prolongs the process of uncertainty for a child. To sanction an appeal as a matter of course would not further the objective of bringing permanency to the child through the prompt resolution of termination proceedings. As such, the policy objective of permanency is consonant with the lawyer’s ethical obligations,” he wrote.

If an attorney’s client is not present at the termination of parental rights hearing, there when the termination order is issued, or hasn’t contacted her counsel, then the trial lawyer has an obligation to contact the client and let her know of the result of the termination proceeding. If the attorney can’t locate the client by using due diligence before the time to file the notice of appeal is due, then the lawyer shouldn’t file the appeal.

“Parents have a statutory right to appellate counsel to appeal an order terminating their parental rights. This right to appeal can be waived,” he wrote. “And it is improper for a parent’s trial lawyer, after the lawyer has exercised due diligence to determine the parent’s wishes with respect to an appeal, to pursue an appeal without the parent’s authorization.”
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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