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State ex rel. H.R.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

June 3, 2015

STATE IN THE INTEREST OF H. R., B. R., B. S

APPEAL FROM THE THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT. PARISH OF EVANGELINE, NO. J-6910. HONORABLE JOHN LARRY VIDRINE, DISTRICT JUDGE.

L. R. (father), APPELLANT, Pro se, New Roads, Louisiana.

L. Antoinette Beard, Lafayette, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana, Department of Children & Family Services.

Trent Brignac, District Attorney, Julhelene E. Jackson, Assistant District Attorney, Ville Platte, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana.

Mahogany Watkins, Acadiana Legal Services Corporation, Alexandria, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR APPELLEES: H. R. (child), B.R. (child), B. S. (child).

Court composed of Jimmie C. Peters, John E. Conery, and David Kent Savoie, Judges.

OPINION

Page 1222

[15-136 La.App. 3 Cir. 1] CONERY, Judge.

The State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family Services (State) filed a motion for termination of parental rights approximately two and one half years before a final hearing. The trial court terminated

Page 1223

the parental rights of the mother J.S. and the father L.R, with respect to their minor daughters H.R., B.R., and B.S.[1] Only the father, L.R., appeals the trial court's denial of a further continuance of the termination proceedings and the October 14, 2014 judgment terminating his parental rights.[2] For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCDURAL HISTORY

On October 1, 2010, by virtue of a written instanter order, the three minors, H.R. (born December 5, 2002), B.R. (born February 1, 2005), and B.S. (born February 1, 2006), came into the custody of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (formerly the Department of Social Services). The October 1, 2010 order was based on allegations that, J.S., the mother, was in treatment for drug addiction and L.R., the unmarried father, was in treatment for a gambling addiction. Consequently, the State claimed that there was no one, including J.S's parents, available to care for the three minors. J.S. had requested that the State take custody of the three children. At a hearing on October 4, 2010, the trial court signed an order of continued custody, which provided that the children were to remain in the custody of the State.

[15-136 La.App. 3 Cir. 2] A petition was filed on October 18, 2010 alleging that the children should be adjudicated " Children In Need of Care." On November 10, 2010, an adjudication and disposition hearing was conducted. The trial court found that the three minors were " Children in Need of Care," adjudicated them as such, and placed custody of the children with the State. A case plan dated October 29, 2010, was also made part of the record of the proceedings.

At the first review hearing on April 15, 2011, the permanent plan ordered by the trial court was reunification of the parents with their children. As of the April 15, 2011 review hearing, J.S. was in partial compliance with her case plan, and L.R. was deemed uncooperative, having failed to provide an accurate address. The case review hearing order stated, " L.R. does not accept responsibility for the children entering into the state's custody." The parents were ordered to comply with the case plan dated October 29, 2010, with reunification of the family as the permanent plan. The trial court scheduled the next review hearing for October 31, 2011.

However, prior to the scheduled October hearing, allegations of sexual abuse of the three minors by both J.S. and L.R. were validated. On October 21, 2011, both parents were appointed legal representation, and for all subsequent legal proceedings, each had been represented by separate legal counsel. At the review hearing held on October 31, 2011, the record reflects that, as of that date, L.R. had not completed any components of his case plan. Likewise, J.S. had " done very little on her case plan." After the hearing on October 31, 2011, the permanent plan ordered by the trial court was changed to adoption. Both parents were ordered by the trial court to

Page 1224

comply with the case plan dated October 20, 2011.

In the permanency and case review hearings held from October 31, 2011 forward, including April 24, 2012, October 24, 2012, May 13, 2013, and October [15-136 La.App. 3 Cir. 3] 29, 2013, the trial court continued to order adoption as the permanent case plan for the three minors. From October 1, 2010 to date, H.R., B.R., and B.S. have remained together in their initial placement in a foster home and in the custody of the State. The trial court maintained this custody plan on its docket from its inception in October 2010.

On March 5, 2012, the State filed a formal " Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and Certificate of Adoption" (State's Petition) seeking to terminate the parental rights of both J.S. and L.R. to clear the way for the foster parents to adopt the three minors. Trial on the petition was originally scheduled for May 4, 2012. However, at the trial on the State's Petition held on October 24, 2012, the trial court expressed its reluctance to proceed on the termination of L.R.'s rights until resolution of the criminal proceedings pending against him in Point Coupee Parish.

The State's Petition was rescheduled an additional four times to accommodate L.R.'s criminal proceedings, November 30, 2012, March 5, 2013, July 19, 2013, and September 25, 2013. The additional continuances of the trial on the State's Petition set for April 9, 2014, June 25, 2014, and August 6, 2014, were due to the absence of a parent and or counsel. The State's Petition was finally set, noticed, and heard by the trial court on October 8, 2014.

At the conclusion of the case review hearing on October 8, 2014, the trial court denied L.R.'s motion for another continuance of the trial on the termination of his parental rights for reasons stated on the record. The State's Petition against both J.S. and L.R then proceeded. The trial court, for reasons stated on the record in open court, terminated the parental rights of J.S. and L.R. to their minor daughters H.R., B.R., and B.S. The trial court based its decision on two of the [15-136 La.App. 3 Cir. 4] three of the State's alleged grounds for termination of J.S. and L.R.'s parental rights, La.Ch.Code arts. 1015 (4)(b) and 1015(5).[3]

Louisiana Children's Code Article 1015(4)(b) provides:

The grounds for termination of parental rights are:
(4) Abandonment of the child by placing him in the physical custody of a nonparent, or the department, or by otherwise leaving him under circumstances demonstrating an intention to permanently avoid parental responsibility by any of the following:
(b) As of the time the petition is filed, the parent has failed to provide significant contributions to the child's care and support for any period of six consecutive months.

Louisiana Children's Code Article 1015(5) provides:

The grounds for termination of parental rights are:
5) Unless sooner permitted by the court, at least one year has elapsed since

Page 1225

a child was removed from the parent's custody pursuant to a court order; there has been no substantial parental compliance with a case plan for services which has been previously filed by the department and approved by the court as necessary for the safe return of the child; and despite earlier intervention, there is no reasonable expectation of significant improvement in the parent's condition or conduct in the near future, considering the child's age and his need for a safe, stable, and permanent home.

The judgment rendered in open court on October 8, 2014 was formally signed by the trial court in a judgment rendered on October 14, 2014. The October 14, 2014 judgment was timely appealed only by L.R., pro se.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

L.R. only asserts one assignment of error on appeal:

[15-136 La.App. 3 Cir. 5] The Trial Court Erred by Rescinding its previously imposed court order on the morning of the Termination Hearing without granting a Continuance to Allow [Appellant] to Properly Prepare a Defense.

L.R. also requests that this court review the entire record in order to insure " Fairness and Due Process," and that this court review the entire record based on a claim in his briefing to this court that " he has been Denied his Constitutional Rights to Due Process." L.R. further requests that this court set aside the trial court's October 14, 2014 judgment.

LAW AND DISCUSSION

Assignment of Error One-Denial of the Continuance Requested ...


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