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COA: Social worker able to testify as expert witness

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A social worker who testified about a parenting assessment at a termination of parental rights hearing was properly allowed to testify as an expert witness, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, because the Indiana Rules of Evidence control. The judges affirmed the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her two young sons.

T.H. argued the trial court erred by qualifying social worker Jillorna Uceny as an expert witness who testified about mother’s Child Abuse Potential Inventory score. The results of the assessment showed T.H. had little interaction with her children and that the boys would be at risk in her care.

“Although Indiana Code section 25-23.6-4-6 prohibits a licensed clinical social worker from providing expert testimony, Indiana Evidence Rule 702 contains no social-worker exclusion. And because the Indiana Rules of Evidence control when they conflict with a statute, we hold that the social worker in this case was able to testify as an expert witness and was properly qualified as such,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in In the Matter of the Parent-Child Rel. of: B.H. & B.H., and T.H. v. The Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 52A02-1210-JT-849.

T.H. also challenged Uceny’s testimony about her CAPI results because she claimed there was no showing the test is based on reliable scientific methodology or technique. But under Rule 702, no specific test is required to establish reliability, Vaidik pointed out. Uceny testified about the history of the test and how it is accepted and widely used in the psychiatric community. Her testimony is sufficient to establish CAPI’s reliability.

The judges did find errors in the trial court admitting Miami County Department of Child Services caseworker Sara Stolina’s progress reports and allowing her to testify about T.H.’s compliance and participation in services. The progress reports shouldn’t have been allowed under the business record exception to the hearsay rule, but the error is harmless as the judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights doesn’t refer to the progress reports or their contents. It was also a harmless error to allow Stolina to testify about mother’s participation in services because the majority of her knowledge came from service providers’ statements to her, which would be inadmissible hearsay.

There is also clear and convincing evidence to support the determination that there is a reasonable probability that the conditions leading to the boys’ removal and continued placement outside of T.H.’s care will not be remedied, the appellate court held.  

 

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  3. 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.

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