Due process in an adjudication phase of a child protective proceeding requires a specific adjudication of a parent’s unfitness before depriving a parent of his or her parental rights. In In re J. A. M. Collier, No. 328172
, the Court of Appeals held that conducting an adjudication in which the defendant is not present, is not represented by counsel, and has no opportunity to defend his or her case improperly denies the defendant of due process in an adjudication.
JC is the daughter of Respondent and KR. In June 2013, JC was removed from KR’s care and placed in Respondent’s custody as a result of her habitual drug use. JC was subsequently removed from Respondent’s care because Respondent allowed JC to continue visiting KR despite Respondent’s knowledge of KR’s drug use. In May 2014, Respondent failed to appear for the adjudication bench trial, and the court dismissed his counsel. Shortly thereafter, a default was entered. Counsel was later appointed for Respondent prior to a show-cause hearing at which Respondent was required to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt for violating a no contact order with KR. Following this hearing, Petitioner filed a petition requesting termination of Respondent’s parental rights. Based on Respondent’s drug use and contact with KR, the court terminated Respondent’s parental rights. Respondent appealed, challenging the adjudication hearing as a denial of his due process rights.
The Court of Appeals concluded that Respondent was effectively deprived of an adjudication hearing. Specifically, the Court noted that the referee improperly entered a default against Respondent because defaults are not permitted in child protective proceedings and because a default does not serve as a proper assessment of a parent’s fitness. Moreover, the Court reasoned that Respondent was not represented at the trial because his counsel was excused and Respondent himself was not present. Accordingly, Petitioner was allowed to present its case against Respondent unopposed. Finally, the Court noted that Respondent’s appeal was not an impermissible collateral attack, but rather, was a direct challenge on the court’s decision to terminate his parental rights without due process. Accordingly, the Court vacated the trial court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings.