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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ind. Decisons - Supreme Courts decides two today, re termination of parental rights

In In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of I.P., T.P. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., a 4-page, per curiam opinion, the Court writes:

The Court has granted transfer to address due process safeguards where a magistrate presiding over a termination of parental rights hearing resigns before reporting recommended findings and conclusions to the judge. In this case and another termination case we decide today, In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of S.B., ___ N.E.3d ___ (Ind. 2014), we find the procedure used violated the parent's due process rights.

The Marion County Department of Child Services petitioned to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of T.P. ("Father") to his child. Magistrate Julianne Cartmel presided over the termination hearing. Father was incarcerated. He participated in the hearing by telephone and was represented by counsel. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Cartmel took the matter under advisement, but she resigned her position before reporting recommended factual findings and conclusions to Judge Marilyn Moores. See Ind. Code § 33-23-5-9. The case was transferred to Magistrate Larry Bradley, who, without holding a new evidentiary hearing, reviewed the hearing record and reported recommended findings and conclusions. Judge Moores approved the findings and conclusions and ordered Father's parental rights terminated. On Father's appeal, the Court of Appeals found no due process violation and affirmed. * * *

A party is entitled to a determination of the issues by the judge who heard the evidence, and, where a case is tried to a judge who resigns before determining the issues, a successor judge cannot decide the issues or enter findings without a trial de novo. * * *

It is precisely because the judge or magistrate presiding at a termination hearing has a superior vantage point for assessing witness credibility and weighing evidence that we give great deference to a trial court's decision to terminate a parent's rights. * * *

The Court of Appeals also found Trial Rule 63(A) authorized Magistrate Bradley to report recommended findings and conclusions without holding a new evidentiary hearing. We find Trial Rule 63(A) inapplicable to this case. * * *

We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

In In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of S.B., Ay.B., A.B. and K.G., K.G. v. Marion County Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., a 4-page, per curiam opinion, the Court writes:
We granted transfer in this case and In the Matter of Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of I.P., ___ N.E.3d ___ (Ind. 2014), to address due process safeguards where a magistrate presiding over a termination of parental rights hearing resigns before reporting recommended findings and conclusions to the judge. In accord with our decision today in In re I.P., we find the procedure used in this case violated the parent's due process rights.

The Marion County Department of Child Services ("MCDCS") petitioned to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of K.G. ("Mother") to her four children. Magistrate Julianne Cartmel presided over the termination hearing. Mother did not attend, but she was represented by counsel. At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, Magistrate Cartmel took the matter under advisement, but she resigned her position before reporting recommended findings and conclusions to Judge Marilyn Moores. See Ind. Code § 33-23-5-9. The case was transferred to Magistrate Larry Bradley, who, without holding a new evidentiary hearing, reviewed the hearing record and reported recommended findings and conclusions. Judge Moores approved the findings and conclusions and ordered Mother's parental rights terminated. On Mother's appeal, the Court of Appeals found no due process violation and affirmed. * * *

Mother did not agree to have Magistrate Bradley recommend findings and conclusions based on a review of the record. See Farner v. Farner, 480 N.E.2d 251, 257-58 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985) (concluding parties may stipulate to have successor judge who did not preside at evidentiary hearing decide the issues based on the record). Nor did Mother waive her due process right by failing to object, as MCDCS alleged. Rather, it appears Mother was unaware of Magistrate Bradley's involvement in the case until after entry of the termination order, which she challenged on appeal. In accord with In re I.P., we find the procedure used by the trial court violated Mother's due process rights.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 26, 2014 01:15 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions