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COA affirms remand to prior judge over father’s objection

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A special judge appointed in a paternity case ruled correctly that matters in the case remanded by the Court of Appeals should be heard by the prior judge who heard the evidence, the appellate court held in a second appeal on the matter.

In In re the Paternity of V.A., (Minor Child), R.A. v. B.Y., 39A04-1310-JP-512, father R.A. requested a change of judge under Trial Rule 76(B), which was granted. He appealed a prior trial court ruling to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Jefferson Circuit Special Judge James B. Morris took the case after Judge Ted Todd granted father’s change-of-judge motion. When Morris received the matter on remand, he ruled that Trial Rule 63(A) requires a judge who hears evidence to make all rulings relating to that evidence.

“On appeal, Father contends that Trial Rules 76(B) and 63(A) conflict, and his right to a change of judge under Trial Rule 76(B) trumps Trial Rule 63(A)’s preference for the judge who heard the evidence,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel. “We conclude that the rules do not conflict; rather, they govern different aspects of Father’s case —  Father’s change-of-judge request under Trial Rule 76(B) applies prospectively to his modification petition, and Trial Rule 63(A) operates retroactively to ensure that the remanded issues are considered by the judge who heard the evidence, Judge Todd. We affirm.”

A separate appellate panel heard another appeal from the same case, affirming Morris’ denial of father’s motion to correct error and an order reinstating his visitation time with a child he had in 2003. He and the child’s mother never married, and their relationship ended in 2011.

In In Re: The Paternity of V.A., a Minor Child, R.A. Father v. B.Y., Mother, 39A01-1307-JP-304, as prior appeals were pending, father filed a motion to modify support and custody the same day that Morris assumed jurisdiction. Morris denied the motion on the basis that he lacked jurisdiction to rule.

“(W)e cannot hold the court abused its discretion when it denied Father’s motion to correct error,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel in this appeal. “We accordingly affirm the denial of Father’s Motion to Correct Error regarding the dismissal of his petition to modify custody and support.”
 

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