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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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