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In re J.B.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

March 10, 2015

IN RE J.B. et al

Submitted on Briefs February 26, 2015

On the briefs: William B. Blaisdell, IV, Esq., Blaisdell & Blaisdell, Ellsworth, for appellant father.

Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR JJ.

OPINION

Page 370

PER CURIAM

[¶1] The father of J.B. and A.B. appeals fro a judgment entered in the District Court (Ellsworth, Mallonee, J.) terminating his parental rights to the children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(iii)-(iv) (2014). The father argues that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion to continue, see In re Trever I., 2009 ME 59, ¶ 28, 973 A.2d 752, and that denial of the motion improperly affected his right to counsel in the termination hearing, see 22 M.R.S. § 4005(2) (2014). We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] In May of 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services requested and received an order removing seven-year-old J.B. and five-year-old A.B. from the home where they had been living with their mother and her boyfriend because the children were in immediate risk of serious harm from those adults. At the time of the children's removal, the Department was unable to find the children's father. Nonetheless, as is the standard procedure, the court immediately assigned counsel to represent the father when the children were removed from their mother's home. On September 18, 2013, after it was able to locate the father, who was in prison in Arizona, the Department served him with the order for preliminary child protection and its petition for child protection order. Before service of the petition, the father had not had meaningful contact with the children for over five years.

[¶3] During September of 2013, the father spoke with a Department caseworker and obtained information about the children's placement.[1] Despite this knowledge, the father made no meaningful effort to contact them, even when he was not incarcerated. On October 29, 2013, the court ( Mallonee, J.) found jeopardy as to the father on the ground of his abandonment of the children for more than six months.

[¶4] On February 6, 2014, the Department filed a petition for termination of parental rights[2] and, on May 14, 2014, the father, who was again incarcerated in Arizona, was served with that petition. On June 26, 2014, the court held a hearing on the petition after denying the father's motion to continue, which was made for the first time on the morning of the hearing. At the time of the termination hearing, the father was still incarcerated in Arizona, and he participated in the proceeding by telephone. On July 3, 2014, the court entered a judgment terminating the father's rights on the grounds of his abandonment and failure to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate and reunify with the children. The father timely appealed pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 4006 (2014) and M.R. App. P. 2.

II. DISCUSSION

[¶5] The father challenges only the court's denial of his motion to continue the termination hearing. We review a court's decision to deny a motion to continue for abuse of discretion. In re Trever I., 2009 ME 59, ¶ 28, 973 A.2d 752; In re ...


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