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Supreme Court reverses parental-rights termination

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The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a father’s involuntary termination of parental rights today, noting the lack of clear and convincing evidence.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of I.A.; J.H. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, No. 62S01-1003-JV-148, father J.H. challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court’s judgment regarding Indiana Code sections 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(B) and (C).

I.A. was born Feb. 18, 2006, out-of-wedlock to mother, D.A., and J.H. The child was one of mother’s seven children ranging in age from birth to 14 years. Within a few months of I.A.’s birth, mother told J.H. that I.A. was his son.

The same month I.A. was born, the Perry County Department of Child Services became involved with mother and her children because of allegations of lack of supervision, educational and medical neglect, and mother’s drug use. The children were removed from mother’s care in January 2007 and individual petitions were filed alleging each child was a child in need of services. DCS named father as a party to the petition regarding I.A.

Both mother and father appeared pro se at a March 30, 2007, hearing at which the judge granted the CHINS petition. The order included a reunification plan for the mother but not for father.

After a July 2007 review hearing, the court entered no findings regarding the father. J.H. later testified that during the summer of 2007, he was initially allowed limited visitation with I.A.; however, visitation was discontinued in September 2007 because paternity had not yet been established. DCS filed a petition Feb. 12, 2008, to terminate both mother and father’s parental rights. J.H. sought paternity testing in May 2008 and filed a petition to establish paternity of I.A., which the trial court granted in September 2008. From July 11, 2008, through Jan. 29, 2009, father was allowed supervised visitation with I.A.

The trial court noted at a review hearing Nov. 25, 2008, that J.H. appeared but mother did not. Among the findings, the trial court noted the mother did not comply with the case plan, but the father did. The high court, however, wrote the record did not reveal that a case plan was ever put in place for J.H.

Despite J.H.’s efforts, the trial court granted DCS’s petitions to terminate mother and father’s parental rights.

At the time I.A. was removed, mother and father were not residing in the same household so the child was in her sole custody and care. Because of that, the conditions that resulted in I.A.’s removal cannot be attributed to father, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

A caseworker noted that father had not bonded with I.A. after 6 months of parent-aide services, that father needed considerable direction regarding simple tasks relating to I.A.’s care, and there had been “no progress in the relationship” between father and I.A.

“In essence, the factors identified by the trial court as conditions that will not be remedied are relevant only if those conditions were factors in DCS’s decision to place I.A. in foster care in the first place. Not only is the trial court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights silent on this point, but also the record before us is silent,” wrote Justice Rucker, noting the trial court’s termination of J.H.’s parental rights cannot be sustained.

The high court noted the record does demonstrate that father’s parenting skills are lacking; however, a case plan for reunification was never developed for father indicating what was expected of him. Also, other than parent aide, no services were provided to assist J.H. in developing effective parenting skills.

“The involuntary termination of parental rights is the most extreme sanction a court can impose on a parent because termination severs all rights of a parent to his or her children. In re L.S., 717 N.E.2d 204, 208 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. Therefore, termination is intended as a last resort, available only when all other reasonable efforts have failed. Id. We are not convinced that all other reasonable efforts have been employed in this case to unite this father and son,” Justice Rucker wrote.

Justice Theodore Boehm, however dissented, giving deference to the trial court’s conclusion.
 

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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