In affirming the involuntary termination of a mother’s parental rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted some troubling
details involving the case.
Mother Z.G. appealed the termination of her parental rights of her daughter, C.G., whom she left in the care of a neighbor or then-boyfriend when she went to Utah and was arrested on drug charges. During that time, C.G. was sexually abused. C.G. was placed in foster care and has remained with that family.
The mother was originally jailed in Utah but then transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office in the Southern District of Indiana and jailed in Kentucky. Attempts to find her by Department of Child Services case managers failed, and mother wasn’t located until several months later when she learned from a friend there were termination and child in need of services proceedings regarding C.G.
Mother’s requests to appear in person at the hearings in Marion Juvenile Court were denied and she appeared via telephone. On appeal in Term. of parent-child rel. of C.G.; Z.G. v. Marion County DCS and Child Advocates, No. 49A04-1002-JT-75, mother claimed DCS and the trial court deprived her of due process, the trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence regarding the permanent disposition for C.G., and there’s insufficient evidence to support the termination.
The Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed the termination but took issue with several details in the case. One DCS case manager’s affidavit of diligent inquiry filed when DCS sought to serve notice upon Z.G. by publication contained an inaccuracy. It said that the case manager had asked “family acquaintances regarding the parent’s whereabouts,” but the manager testified he used a form to generate the affidavit and that statement couldn’t be removed. He didn’t contact any family acquaintances. Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote that his attitude toward executing a sworn affidavit is “troubling,” but the inaccuracy didn’t increase the error in termination proceedings.
The appellate panel was also concerned by the fact that the DCS case manager, who first received a letter from the mother in November 2008, didn’t tell her a CHINS case was pending in his response letter in December 2008. The mother didn’t learn of the proceeding until she received an advisement of rights form and copy of the CHINS petition in a February 2009 letter, a little less than a month before DCS filed its petition for termination.
“DCS’s delay in sending Mother a copy of the CHINS petition and an advisement of rights effectively precluded Mother from participating in the CHINS case in its later stages and cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, we cannot conclude that DCS’s dilatory behavior substantially increased the risk of error in the termination proceedings,” Judge Vaidik wrote.
Finally, the appellate judges were troubled by the Marion Superior Court’s policy that juvenile prisoners cannot be within sight or hearing of adult prisoners, and the Juvenile Division lacks the facilities to separately house adult and juvenile offenders at the Juvenile Center. There is a blanket policy preventing adult inmates from participating in person in proceedings at the center, thus mother had to participate by telephone.
“As the evidence at the hearing shows, there are other Marion County courts with the capacity to hold adult prisoners, and those could be used in termination proceedings when necessary,” she wrote. “We can foresee circumstances under which an incarcerated parent’s in-person participation in a termination proceeding would be necessary, and the Marion Superior Court’s policy could deprive parents of their right to due process in those circumstances.”
Nonetheless, the judges found Z.G.’s due process rights weren’t significantly compromised by her telephonic participation because she was represented by counsel, she testified during the hearing, and was able to authenticate exhibits her counsel sent her.