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In re Children of Bethmarie R.

Supreme Court of Maine

April 18, 2019

IN RE CHILDREN OF BETHMARIE R.

          Submitted On Briefs: April 9, 2019

          Julian Richter, Esq., Richter Law, LLC, Gardiner, for appellant mother

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services

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

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] The mother of the two children at issue in this case appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Waterville, Stanfill, I.) terminating her parental rights to the children pursuant to 22 M.R.S.§4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a)-(b)(i), (iv) (2018).[1] The mother contends that (1) the evidence admitted at the termination hearing was insufficient to support the court's unfitness finding, (2) in making its best interest finding the court erred by focusing on who should adopt the children rather than focusing on the central question of whether they should be adopted by anyone, and (3) the procedural interaction between the Probate Court and the District Court in this case deprived her of due process. We affirm the judgment.

         [¶2] We recently addressed this matter in affirming the court's jeopardy order concerning these children. In re Children of Bethmarie R., 2018 ME 96, ¶ 1, 189 A.3d 252. In doing so, we recited in detail the procedural history of the case leading to the jeopardy order as well as the court's supported factual findings; we do not repeat them here. Id. ¶¶ 2-13, 25. Similarly, we do not repeat the relevant facts relating to the mother's conviction for criminal restraint by a parent (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 303(1)(A) (2018)-a case that concerned these children-which we discussed in State v. Retamozzo, 2016 ME 42, 135 A.3d 98.

         [¶3] While our decision in the mother's appeal from the jeopardy order was pending, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition to terminate the mother's parental rights. Following our decision, the court held an evidentiary hearing on August 8, 2018, at which the children's maternal grandmother, the grandmother's ex-husband, the Department's caseworker, a Waterville Police detective, the mother, the children's former therapist, and the guardian ad litem testified. On October 16, 2018, the court entered its judgment terminating the mother's parental rights, from which the mother timely appealed.

         [¶4] The court made the following findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence, all of which are supported by competent evidence in the record:[2]

In the jeopardy order, this court found that the children had suffered serious emotional harm from [the mother], and would continue to do so if returned to her care. The court found that contact between [the mother] and the children was not in the best interest of the children. The court specifically found that [the mother] subjected the children to "treatment that is heinous or abhorrent to society" under 22 M.R.S. § 4002(1-B) and that she had abandoned five of her other children. As a result, the court found that not only were the children in jeopardy with [the mother] but that reunification with her was not in the best interest of the children.
Nothing has happened since then to change this court's view of the situation. [The mother] has not accepted any responsibility for her actions, nor does she have any insight into the impact on the children of any of her actions. Indeed, her view of the past and present situation is notably inconsistent with reality and truth.
Despite this court's finding that visits were not in the best interest of the children and despite this court's denials of [the mother]'s repeated requests for visits, [the mother] continued to take matters into her own hands. She showed up, uninvited and unannounced, at several events the children attended with [the grandmother]. She repeatedly tried to get [her daughter] in particular to come with her. She caused scenes at these events, upsetting the children and family. She repeatedly called [her daughter] to come out and meet her. She frequently goes by the children's home, parks her car nearby, and watches what is happening in an effort to see the children.
The children, especially [her daughter], were triggered and escalated after the confrontations at [two events]. At both of these events, [the mother] caused a scene She would refuse to leave and would yell things like the children need to come with her, that she has a plan, that the Department and [the grandmother] are stealing her children, and the like. This kind of behavior is a particular trigger for the children in light of all of the unresolved issues surrounding the time she "kidnapped" them. (Footnote omitted.)
[The mother]'s testimony is very telling. She denied that she had ever abandoned [another of her] daughter[s] .... She denied she had ever abandoned her other four children. She denied being aware that any of her parental rights have ever been terminated to any other children. She denied that she had taken [the children at issue in this case] without permission; indeed, she continued to insist to this court that she had permission to bring the kids to Florida. All of those statements are contrary to findings of other courts and contrary to the findings of this court as set forth in the Jeopardy Order. She denied having any mental health issues that needed to be addressed. She disagreed with [an examining psychologist's] diagnosis and findings. She denied she had any pattern of self-defeating behavior. She denied that she has ...

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