ILNews

Divided Supreme Court reinstates parental termination order

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The Indiana Court of Appeals impermissibly reversed termination of a father’s parental rights, a majority of the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday in reinstating a trial court order.

Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the majority in a 4-1 decision that a divided COA panel that overturned the trial court “contravened the standard of review by reweighing the evidence. We therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment.”

The case arose from the court of former Lake Superior Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, who since has been appointed to lead the Department of Child Services. The court stripped a father of visitation because of a history of abuse of the children’s mother and failure to comply with court-ordered services.

Father later was convicted of a firearm charge and imprisoned in Illinois, where he complied with anger-management programs and sought to reform himself, according to the record. When released, he contacted DCS in an effort to see his children who since had been placed with maternal grandparents.

The majority of justices held that the Court of Appeals could not substitute its judgment that too little credence was given to the father’s efforts for the findings of the trial court. The case is In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of E.M. and El.M., E.M. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 45S03-1308-JT-557.  

“The Court of Appeals’ focus on Father’s recent efforts was understandable, but nevertheless amounted to reweighing the evidence,” Rush wrote, noting that “the evidence here was close.

“… It was not clearly erroneous for the trial court to conclude that after three and a half years, Father’s efforts simply came too late and that (his children) needed permanency even more than they needed a final effort at family preservation,” the majority held.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented. “In a carefully worded and well reasoned memorandum decision the Court of Appeals concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s judgment terminating Father’s parental rights,” he wrote in agreeing with the COA’s reversal.

Rucker noted there was no evidence in the record that the children were ever abused and evidence was deficient to support removal being in the children’s best interest. Noting the majority view that the evidence was “close,” he wrote, “But this is not a game of horseshoes and close is not good enough.

“In order to terminate a parent’s parental rights the State must prove its case by clear and convincing evidence. It has failed to do so.”


 

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  1. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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