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Allowing testimony of foster parent at TPR grounds hearing was not improper

Wood County Human Services Dep’t v. Melanie M., 2013AP2814, 2013AP2815, & 2013AP2816, District 4, 2/27/14; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity: 2013AP2814; 2013AP2815; 2013AP2816

Foster parent testimony during the grounds phase of a TPR proceeding has the potential to be prejudicial because it creates a risk the jury will reach a verdict by comparing the biological parent to the foster parent; however, that does not mean such testimony is per se prejudicial. Nor does § 48.427(1m)’s recognition that the foster parent may be heard at the dispositional phase mean his or her testimony  is inadmissible at the grounds hearing. Instead, the trial court has the discretion under § 904.03 to admit or exclude the foster parent’s testimony , and the court here properly exercised its discretion in admitting the testimony in this case. (¶4-11). In addition, even if some of the foster parent’s testimony was erroneously admitted, it did not deprive Melanie of a fair trial because the testimony was a relatively brief portion of a three-day trial. (¶¶14-18).

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