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Court weighs cost of transportation

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In LaPorte County, Juvenile Magistrate Nancy Gettinger tries to recognize and thank the police who transport inmates to her courtroom for parental rights termination hearings.

She knows the difficulty of making sure incarcerated parents are able to appear in order to get the best representation or participate in the proceedings.

teleconference-15col.jpg The Indiana Department of Correction has a videoconferencing room in its facilities where inmates can attend civil or criminal proceedings – including parental rights termination hearings and CHINS proceedings. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“If I can get them here in person, I try my best to do that, and I typically don’t have any issue with getting that incarcerated parent here,” she said. “As a judicial officer, I want to make sure I’m affording that person every opportunity to be heard because this is heavy-duty stuff, these parental rights. I’m pretty lucky in LaPorte County, but many others aren’t and have more trouble in transporting them to court.”

willis-maryjan-bw-mug.jpg Willis

On Oct. 11, the Indiana Supreme Court issued guidance to state trial courts in determining whether an incarcerated parent is permitted to attend a termination of parental rights hearing. The decision was welcomed by judges and attorneys who say the requirements up to now have been unclear.

Reaction on how much practical effect this ruling will have are mixed, but most say they see it as significant because it affirms some of the practices already used and gives them clear direction on what must be included in written findings in these cases. Judges and attorneys handling these cases also hope this opinion will send a message to the Department of Child Services that it needs to improve its investigation and notification policies in parental rights cases which are becoming more frequent statewide and involve more parents who are behind bars.

The holding came in a Marion County case, In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of C.G., Minor Child and Her Mother, Z.G. v. Marion County Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc., No. 49S04-1101-JT-46, with Justice Steven David writing the unanimous opinion. While addressing the due process issues of the case, the justices summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals decision from August 2010 that found in favor of Marion County DCS and Child Advocates.

The mother, Z.G., appealed the termination of parental rights of daughter C.G. C.G. was born in 2000 and left in the care of a neighbor or then-boyfriend when Z.G. went to Utah, where she was arrested on drug charges. During that time, C.G. was sexually abused and eventually placed in foster care with a family that has since adopted her. Z.G. was put in federal custody and incarcerated in Kentucky.

Two DCS family case managers attempted to find Z.G. and notify her of the Child in Need of Services and parental termination proceedings. She was located in prison several months later when she learned from a friend about the proceedings regarding her daughter.

carmichael-vicki-mug.jpg Carmichael

Z.G.’s requests to appear in person at the hearings in Marion Juvenile Court were denied and she appeared via teleconferencing. She 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 that there is insufficient evidence to support the termination. The Court of Appeals disagreed that any due process violation occurred, as does the state Supreme Court.

Still, David – a former juvenile judge in Boone County – found aspects about how the DCS handled the case in regard to inadequately notifying the mother about CHINS and parental rights termination proceedings questionable. He also expressed concern over how case managers filled out forms and that they failed to contact family members. Pointing to these examples, David described the DCS actions as extremely troubling, disturbing and inappropriate.

“In this case, several errors were made by DCS which should not have been made,” he wrote. “However, none of the errors rose to the level of violating Mother’s due process rights or warranting reversal.”

transportationLooking at the mother’s inability to attend the hearing, David examined an issue on which the court hasn’t previously offered guidance to state trial judges. The Court of Appeals addressed the issue for the first time in 2002 and found that parents weren’t denied due process by not being transported to their termination hearings. It also held alternative procedures such as speaker phone or video conferencing could be used.

The justices noted that Z.G. in this case participated in both days of the termination hearing telephonically with Spanish interpreters in the courtroom. That presents risks, they said, because of the “delicate” nature of the proceeding.

Examining the methods used in various states, the Indiana justices focused on a practice used in West Virginia that was outlined more than a decade ago in State of West Virginia ex rel. Jaenette H. v. Pancake, 529 S.E.2d 865 (W. Va. 2000).

Specifically, it says the trial judge should balance 11 factors that range from the impact of delaying a case for parental attendance, the effect of the parent’s presence and personal participation, any potential safety or security risk and the impact on the child’s best interest.

In the present case, the mother wasn’t allowed to attend the proceedings and participated by teleconferencing. Marion County has had a policy since 2006 prohibiting adults from being sent to juvenile courts, even though some continued to be able to attend throughout 2009.

“A blanket order prohibiting transporting a prisoner to a termination hearing is fraught with danger,” David wrote. “If the trial courts were allowed to hide behind such a blanket order, on review our appellate courts would be left with little to no information, forcing them to surmise why the trial court issued the order.”

In many Indiana counties, local judges and attorneys say their jurisdictions don’t have blanket transportation policies and discretion is used based on the situation at the time.

Evansville public defender Erin Berger said that she sees many clients who are incarcerated and that Vanderburgh Superior Judge Brett Niemeier already uses many of these same factors in considering whether transportation is warranted. Clients in federal custody typically do not appear, because the logistics outweigh the benefits, and she said the judge tries to get parents into court as often as possible.

Henry Circuit Judge Mary Willis believes this ruling will be helpful in weighing these due process considerations because it specifically allows for counties to take into account factors such as cost of transporting a parent. Clark Superior Judge Vicki Carmichael said this Supreme Court ruling won’t change how she handles cases involving parents incarcerated inside Indiana, but it will impact those cases where parents are incarcerated out of state. Since Clark County borders Kentucky, the judge said many parents are held in Kentucky and she will now balance the factors the justices adopted.

gettinger-nancy-mug.jpg Gettinger

“I certainly believe the better practice is to have parents present at such hearings as termination of parental rights does impact their fundamental interests in the care and custody of their children,” she said.

In northern Indiana, Gettinger said it is often easier to transport incarcerated parents because three state correctional facilities are located nearby. If transportation is not possible, she finds the Department of Correction video conferencing capabilities adequate, and she’s also allowed incarcerated parents to participate in the hearing by phone.

“That’s not my preference to do a video or teleconference,” Gettinger said, noting that one recent parent was set up in a prison cafeteria where the background noise made it difficult for everyone to communicate. “It’s really case by case and it does make a difference when someone’s there, but that’s not always possible.”

Though she doesn’t see this ruling having much impact on her decision-making process as it occurs now, Gettinger said it will cause her to make an official record with written findings outlying each of the factors the justices referenced. She hopes that the Supreme Court’s scolding of the DCS about its practices in these cases might help motivate the state to more actively work toward getting people into court.

“As a practical matter, not much will change. But we have guidance on what we can consider and what needs to be in our findings,” she said. “I enjoyed in the opinion how Justice David used his own experiences about DCS practices that we’ve felt are often too shabby. I’ve lectured them from time to time that these people do have rights, and it’s nice to have someone in our corner who’s aware of how this plays out in our courtrooms.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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