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Appellate Procedure – Harmless Error: Denial of Right to Counsel – TPR

State v. Shirley E., 2006 WI 129, affirming 2006 WI App 55
For Shirley E.: Andrea Taylor Cornwall, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate


¶63      Depriving a parent of the statutory right to counsel in a termination of parental rights proceeding deprives the parent of a basic protection without which, according to our legislature, a termination of a parental rights proceeding cannot reliably serve its function. The fairness and integrity of the judicial proceeding that the legislature has established for termination proceedings has been placed in doubt when the statutory right to counsel is denied a parent. Accordingly, the denial of the statutory right to counsel in the present case constitutes structural error.¶64      We thus hold that it was prejudicial error per se for the circuit court to dismiss Shirley E.’s attorney from the proceedings and to prevent counsel from participating in the termination of parental rights proceeding.

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