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Failing to appear at TPR grounds hearing justified default judgment

State v. Rickey V., 2014AP334, District 1, 7/8/14 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Father’s failure to appear at two scheduled evidentiary hearings on whether there were grounds for termination of parental rights was sufficiently “egregious” to justify a default judgment against him under Dane County DHS v. Mable K., 2013 WI 28, ¶70, 346 Wis. 2d 396, 828 N.W.2d 198 (circuit court may find a parent in default if the parent’s unintentional failure to follow court orders is “‘so extreme, substantial and persistent’ that the conduct may be considered egregious”).

Rickey failed to appear in person at a grounds hearing set for July 1; instead, he called the court and told a staff member he would appear by telephone. But when the judge tried calling Rickey there was no answer. The judge adjourned the hearing to August 6, and again Rickey failed to appear. The judge called a telephone number for Rickey and the child’s mother; no one answered, so the court left a voice mail message. The judge took evidence regarding the grounds for the petition and entered a default judgment, saying it would re-visit the default finding if Ricky appeared. (¶¶4-5).

Post-disposition, Rickey unsuccessfully challenged the default finding. (¶¶6-8). The court of appeals affirms the circuit court’s conclusion that there were no grounds to vacate the default judgment:

¶9        The circuit court found that Ricky V. knew of the court dates, and, essentially, “sat on his hands.” The circuit court therefore concluded that “entry of default judgment [on August 6, 2013] subject to prove-up was the appropriate remedy” because Ricky V.’s failures to appear made the case “unable to proceed forward.” The circuit court did not find that “there is excusable neglect, or anything else, that would justify me lifting that default judgment.”

¶10      Although the circuit court did not use the magic word “egregious” to describe Ricky V.’s failure to appear at the August 6, 2013, hearing, or even answer his telephone at the number he left with the circuit court on July 1, 2013, it is clear from the circuit court’s findings of fact, which neither party says were “clearly erroneous,” … that the circuit court determined that what Ricky V. did was, as phrased by Mable K., 2013 WI 28, ¶70, 346 Wis. 2d at 425, 828 N.W.2d at 212, “‘so extreme, substantial and persistent’ that the conduct may be considered egregious.” (quoted source omitted.) … The circuit court’s conclusion is amply supported by its findings and the Record, and it correctly applied the law. …

For more on Mable K., see our post here.

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