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COA rejects kitchen sink approach in appeal of multi-child TPR

State v. T.J., 2023AP1239-1242, 11/28/23, District I (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Despite  a battery of legal challenges, COA swiftly and efficiently marches toward affirmance in this TPR appeal.

“Tony’s” parental rights to four of his children were terminated following a jury trial. Accordingly, he first attacks three evidentiary rulings made during the course of that trial. (¶20). He argues that the following testimony was inadmissible hearsay: (1) testimony from a former case manager about what she had been told about Tony’s bad behavior when she took over the case, including domestic violence and threats to other professionals involved in the case (¶22); (2) testimony from another former case worker that the mother of the children told her Tony was contacting her via text and that she asked the worker to accompany her to a police station as a result of Tony’s behavior (¶24); and (3) testimony from that same witness that the foster parent had reported harrassing behavior from Tony. (¶26).

The court concludes that, with respect to every controverted statement, the evidence was not being offered for the truth of the matter and was therefore not hearsay. (¶23-27). And, in any case, COA holds that admission of these statements was harmless error. (¶29). Even though the evidence paints Tony in a bad light, it was not relevant to the grounds alleged in the petition, continuing CHIPS and failure to assume parental responsibility. (¶32). Although it certainly makes Tony look like a bad guy, COA holds it is “illogical” to conclude that the jury would have placed any weight on this evidence in its deliberations. (¶33).

Next, Tony argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove the department made “reasonable efforts” to provide him with services. (¶35). This argument goes nowhere under the forgiving standard of review, and COA dispatches it with two short sentences of analysis, holding there was “credible evidence” to support the jury’s verdict on this point. (¶38).

Finally, Tony argues the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion by terminating his rights to one of the children, “Tisha,” who was placed with foster parents who had no plans to adopt. (¶39). Although the court considered that Tisha’s current placement “would provide a permanent home unless and until an adoptive resource is found[,]” (¶18), Tony nevertheless argues the circuit court “misunderstood the nature and permanency of Tisha’s current placement and asserts that there is no evidence Tisha’s foster parent would provide Tisha permanent home [sic].” (¶39). While is difficult to understand the precise contours of Tony’s argument given the brief treatment of the issue in this opinion, COA is satisfied that the judge’s ruling survives the deferential standard of review applicable here. (¶42).

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