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Challenges to termination of parental rights rejected

State v. L.T.H., 2022AP56 & 2022AP57, District 1, 7/19/22 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

L.T.H. challenges the circuit court’s refusal to terminate her grounds trial from that of the father of one of her children, its decision to allow evidence of her own experience with the child welfare system when she was a child, its refusal to allow her to testify at the dispositional hearing, and its decision to terminate her parental rights. The court of appeals rejects all her challenges.

First, the circuit court didn’t err in denying her severance motion because severance was rendered moot when the father was defaulted for failing to appear. In any event, she didn’t have a grounds trial herself, but entered a plea to failing to assume parental responsibility. While evidence about the grounds for terminating the father was admitted at her dispositional hearing, it was limited and she develops no argument that it was prejudicial to her. (¶¶14-15, 26-27).

Next, regarding the evidence regarding L.T.H.’s experience in the child welfare system, there was no objection so the challenge is forfeited. Moreover, it was relevant to disposition of one of the children because there was a recommendation that child be placed with L.T.H.’s mother. (¶¶15, 24-25).

As to not allowing L.T.H. to testify at the dispositional hearing, the court concludes that the record shows she was given that opportunity, but, through counsel, opted not to give direct testimony and suggested she might offer surrebuttal testimony after the case worker testified in rebuttal to her case. At a continued hearing, she said she’d changed her mind and wanted to testify, but the circuit court denied the request because she had previously rested her case without testifying and there wasn’t time to hear from her. Based on this record, the court of appeals finds she waived her right to testify. (¶¶16-17, 28-33).

Finally, L.T.H. argues the circuit court didn’t consider the wishes of the children in deciding to terminate her parental rights. The court of appeals concludes the record shows did consider this factor. (¶¶18-23).

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