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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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