In two short, per curiam decisions, the Indiana Supreme Court found the parental rights of two Marion County parents should not have been terminated because of due process violations after the magistrate who heard their cases resigned before reporting recommended findings and conclusions.
Marion Superior Magistrate Judge Julianne Cartmel presided over the termination hearings involving father T.P. and mother K.G. and their respective children. After the hearing, she took the matter under advisement, but resigned her position before reporting recommended factual findings and conclusions to Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores. Both cases were transferred to Magistrate Judge Larry Bradley, who, without holding a new evidentiary hearing, reviewed the hearing records and reported recommended findings and conclusions.
Moores approved the findings and ordered both parents’ rights terminated. The Court of Appeals affirmed in both cases, finding no due process violations. The appeals court cited Trial Rule 63(A) as authorizing Bradley to report recommending findings and conclusions without holding a new evidentiary hearing in T.P.’s case, but that rule is inapplicable, the justices held.
“A party is entitled to a determination of the issues by the judge who heard the evidence, and, where a case is tried to a judge who resigns before determining the issues, a successor judge cannot decide the issues or enter findings without a trial de novo,” the In re I.P. opinion states. “It is precisely because the judge or magistrate presiding at a termination hearing has a superior vantage point for assessing witness credibility and weighing evidence that we give great deference to a trial court's decision to terminate a parent's rights.”
But in both cases, Bradley did not hear the evidence or observe the witnesses first hand and both parents did not agree to have him recommend findings and conclusions based on a review of the record.
The terminations are reversed and the cases are remanded for further proceedings. They are In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of I.P., T.P. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., 49S02-1402-JT-81; and In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of S.B., Ay.B., A.B. and K.G., K.G. v. Marion County Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., 49S02-1402-JT-77.