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In re Cameron Z.

Supreme Court of Maine

November 8, 2016

IN RE CAMERON Z. et al.

          Submitted On Briefs: September 29, 2016

         Biddeford District Court docket number PC-2014-07

          Amy McNally, Esq., Woodman Edmands Danylik Austin Smith & Jacques, P.A., Biddeford, for appellant mother

          Philip Notis, Esq., 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, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] The mother and father of Cameron Z., Calvin Z., Cole Z., and Lawrence Z. appeal from a judgment of the District Court (Biddeford, Foster, J.) terminating their parental rights to the children pursuant to 22 M.R.S. §4055(1)(B) (2015).[1] Both parents contend that the evidence was insufficient to support the courts findings, by clear and convincing evidence, of at least one ground of unfitness as to each parent, and that termination of their parental rights was in the childrens best interest. See id. The father additionally contends that the court erred in admitting hearsay statements made by one of the children, and that the trial judge should have granted his motion to recuse.[2] We affirm the judgment.

          I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         [¶2] On February 6, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for a child protection order and a request for a preliminary order concerning Lawrence, who was at that point unnamed and still in the hospital after being born drug-affected on January 21. See 22 M.R.S. §§ 4032, 4034(1) (2015).[3] The Department alleged that the baby had effectively been abandoned at the hospital by the parents, and that the fathers six-year-old son from another relationship, D.G., who lived in the parents home, had recently received unexplained inflicted injuries. The court granted a preliminary order the same day giving custody of Lawrence to the Department. The parents later failed to appear for the summary preliminary hearing. Also on February 6, the Department petitioned for a child protection order concerning Cameron, Calvin, and Cole; it did not request a preliminary order and the children remained in their home pursuant to a safety plan developed by the Department.

         [¶3] On May 15, the court entered a jeopardy order as to the mother by agreement concerning all four children; the father did not appear for the hearing. See 22 M.R.S. § 4035 (2015). The court found jeopardy based on the mothers substance abuse issues, her inadequate supervision of the children, and her failure to appreciate the risk posed to them by the father. Cameron, Calvin, and Cole were placed in the mothers custody subject to several conditions, one of which was that she "not permit, tolerate or facilitate contact between the father . . . and any or all of the children without the written approval of the Department." Lawrence remained in the Departments custody at his foster home.

         [¶4] Based on the fathers representation that he was returning to Maine from Florida to contest a jeopardy finding, the court reset his jeopardy hearing for May 30. On that date the father again did not appear; unbeknownst to the court, he had been arrested a few hours before the scheduled hearing and was in the Cumberland County Jail. The court held a testimonial hearing in his absence at which he was represented by counsel, following which it made detailed findings and entered a jeopardy order against the father as to all of the children, finding that he (1) failed to protect D.G. from assault in the home in that, "at a minimum he was aware of the physical violence, did nothing to protect the child, and took active steps to conceal it from others"; (2) failed to protect Lawrence from the mothers drug use during her pregnancy, resulting in the baby being born drug-affected; and (3) abandoned the children by leaving the state, having no contact with them, and "providing no assistance, financial or otherwise." We affirmed the jeopardy order when the father appealed. In re D.G., Mem 15-36 (June 9, 2015).

         [¶5] On the day of the fathers rescheduled jeopardy hearing, the Department filed a petition to terminate the parents rights to Lawrence. See 22 M.R.S. § 4052 (2015). The mother consented to the termination of her parental rights; the father did not.

         [¶6] On October 10, the Department requested a preliminary protection order concerning Cameron, Calvin, and Cole based, in part, on an allegation that the father had been having unsupervised contact with the children in violation of the jeopardy order that the mother agreed to. The court issued a preliminary order granting custody of the children to the Department. The parents appeared at the summary preliminary hearing and contested the preliminary order. The court heard evidence that two Assistant Attorneys General had seen the father in a car with Cameron, Calvin, and Cole. The court made a finding that it had "no confidence in the parents representations or promises, " and ordered that the preliminary order remain in effect.

         [¶7] On April 10, 2015, the Department filed a petition to terminate the parents rights to Cameron, Calvin, and Cole. A hearing held over three days in November 2015 resulted in the court issuing a detailed twenty-page order terminating both parents rights to Cameron, Calvin, Cole, and Lawrence. The father left the courtroom on the afternoon of the first day of the hearing and, ...


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