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Despite circuit court missteps, COA affirms TPR

Kenosha County DCFS v. J.M.C. III, 2023AP1382, 3/13/24, District 2 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

In affirming the termination of J.M.C.’s parental rights to his daughter, the court holds that (1) the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in denying J.M.C.’s request for a new attorney and (2) the circuit court’s failure to take testimony in support of J.M.C.’s no contest plea to grounds was harmless.

With respect to the first issue, it appears that J.M.C.’s initial complaint about his trial counsel occurred on the morning of his scheduled jury trial. While the court agrees the circuit court thereafter failed to conduct an adequate inquiry into J.M.C.’s request, under State v. Lomax, 146 Wis. 2d 356, 359, 432 N.W.2d 89 (1988), the court finds no fault in the ultimate decision to deny J.M.C.’s belated request because J.M.C. ultimately confirmed that he was primarily frustrated with the entire process and with the county, rather than any specific conflict of interest or breakdown in attorney-client communication. Op., ¶¶30-34.

With respect to the second issue, the court again agrees with J.M.C. initially, with regard to whether the circuit court failed to comply with § 48.422(3), but ultimately finds the error harmless. Op., ¶35. Specifically, the court examined the entire record and affirmed the postdisposition court’s conclusion that both elements of the abandonment ground to which J.M.C. pled we established at other times during the case. Op., ¶¶37-42.

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