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Circuit court properly exercised discretion when it entered an individualized order terminating parental rights of one parent

State of Wisconsin v. J.L.A., 2023AP424, District I, 6/27/23, 1-judge decision ineligible for publication; case activity (briefs not available)

In a TPR appeal with a typically tragic fact pattern, the court of appeals defers to the circuit court’s decision to terminate “Julia’s” parental rights.

Here, the State successfully obtained an order terminating Julia’s parental rights with respect to her three-year old daughter, “Emma,” who was born suffering the effects of opiate withdrawal. (¶2). On appeal, Julia argues the circuit court erred in terminating her parental rights. (¶1). Her arguments are unavailing.

First, Julie argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s termination order. Treating the dispositional hearing as a court trial, COA indicates that it is bound by the lower court’s findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. (¶23). Whether that evidence is sufficient to justify termination, however, is a question of law reviewed de novo. (Id.). COA finds ample justification for the termination order in the testimony of a case manager, who described numerous concerns about Julia’s ability to keep Emma safe, including safe from her father, “Joseph,” also a drug user. (¶¶24-25).

As to the circuit court’s discretionary weighing of the dispositional factors under § 48.426(3), COA is likewise satisfied that the circuit court’s oral ruling reflects sufficient consideration of those statutory requirements. (¶26). And, while Julie asserts that the circuit court placed too much weight on one factor, that argument fails because the weight assigned to each factor is for the circuit court, in its discretion, to determine. (¶27). Finally, Julia makes a novel argument that the circuit court “impermissibly intertwined the consideration of her parental rights and Joseph’s parental rights”, thereby depriving her of an individualized adjudication. (¶28). Under a discretionary standard of review this argument also fails, as “the record reflects” a proper exercise of individualized discretion. (¶28). Not only is the circuit required to defer to the circuit court’s judgment, it also claims to be required to assume the court impartially applied the law. (¶30). With these forbidding legal assumptions at play, Julia’s appeal is DOA in District I.

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