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No relief in TPR

Taylor County DHHS v. S.A.L., 2016AP2369, 6/7/17, District 3 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

S.A.L. appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children. She alleges ineffective assistance of her trial counsel and that the court failed to properly exercise discretion during the dispositional phase. The court of appeals affirms.

The alleged grounds for termination were continuing CHIPS and failure to assume parental responsibility. Postdisposition, she alleged her trial counsel should have objected to two social workers’ testimony that she would not likely meet the conditions of return within nine months. She also faults counsel for not objecting to closing remarks by the guardian ad litem suggesting the jury should consider the best interests of the children, who were in a “good” foster home (rather than only her parental fitness, as the law requires).

Regarding the social workers’ opinions about her chances of meeting the conditions of return, the court of appeals finds any deficiency non-prejudicial. It recites S.A.L.’s pre-termination history of inability to care for her children and concludes, in essence, that the testimony would not have influenced the jury’s determination that she would remain unable.

As to the GAL’s argument, the court concludes that in context, the statement that the kids were in a “good foster home” were meant to illustrate that S.A.L. had not been caring for the children in recent years. (¶20). It also rejects claims that the GAL improperly vouched for one of the social workers, invited the jury to consider the children’s best interests by noting her position as an advocate for those interests, and misstated evidence.

The court also concludes that the circuit court, though it failed to consider several of the statutory factors at the original dispositional hearing, corrected any error at the postdisposition hearing when it went through all of the factors. (¶32).

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