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In re L.T.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

July 28, 2015

IN RE L.T

Submitted On Briefs July 1, 2015.

On the briefs: Stephen C. Whiting, Esq., The Whiting Law Firm, P.A., Portland, 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

GORMAN, J.

[¶1] The father of L.T. appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Springvale, Foster, J.) terminating his parental rights to the child. He contends that the evidence was not sufficient to support the court's finding of parental unfitness, and that the court abused its discretion in determining that termination of his parental rights is in the child's best interest. The

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father also contends that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion for relief from judgment pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 60(b) and in denying him post-termination visitation with the child. Finally, the father argues that the trial judge was biased against him, and that he had a due process right to a jury trial. We disagree and affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The father and mother, who are not married, separated shortly after the birth of their child in 2008. In 2010, the mother obtained a protection from abuse order against the father that restricted his contact with the child to supervised visits.[1]

[¶3] Early in 2012, after an episode of domestic violence involving the mother and another male partner, the Department of Health and Human Services became involved with the family on an informal basis. By agreement, the child was placed with her paternal grandmother, and the Department offered services to both parents. Given the father's propensity for violence--demonstrated not only by his history of convictions and incarcerations, but by his own reports that he had once tracked down and beat over the course of a day and a half an individual he believed had molested a child, and that he had been placed in solitary confinement for over two years because he " went crazy" after learning someone had tried to kill him in prison--the Department referred the father for therapy designed to address his anger and violence issues. The father began seeing the primary clinician for Violence No More, a certified batterers' intervention program, in May of 2012 but attended the sessions inconsistently, and stopped attending in July of 2012.

[¶4] In the fall of 2012, after a series of events that caused the Department to believe that informal agreements with the parties would no longer provide sufficient protection to the child, the Department filed a petition for child protection alleging that the father[2] created jeopardy through neglect, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. On October 24, 2012, while at court for a case management conference, the father and the Department agreed to the entry of a jeopardy order as to the father, and the court signed an order referencing the parties' agreement on November 26, 2012. That order, which was not docketed until December 28, 2012, continued the child's placement with her paternal grandmother, and included a finding that the father had placed his child in jeopardy by " exposing the child to domestic violence . . . perpetrated by him [against the child's] mother." In addition, the order referenced the father's " long criminal history involving crimes of violence against others," and stated that the father's jeopardy " issues" were due, in part, to mental health and anger issues.

[¶5] Between the time the agreement was placed on the record and when it was actually entered in the docket, the father sent dozens of threatening and vulgar text messages to his mother. Based on those actions, the paternal grandmother requested and obtained a protection from abuse order against him. Nonetheless, as a result of the parties' agreement and the jeopardy order, the child continued to live with and be cared for by ...


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