APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT. NO. JV-2014-225. HONORABLE JIM D. SPEARS, JUDGE.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Booth Law Firm, by: Frank W. Booth, for appellant.
Tabitha Baertels McNulty, Office of Policy and Legal Services; and Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith Chrestman, for appellees.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge. PITTMAN and GLOVER, JJ., agree.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge
Tommy Thompson appeals a Sebastian County Circuit Court order adjudicating his ten-month-old twin daughters dependent-neglected. He raises three points for reversal in which he challenges (1) the constitutionality of the removal statutes; (2) the sufficiency of the evidence to support the dependency-neglect finding; and (3) the trial court's refusal to allow the admission of evidence in his defense. We need not address Thompson's first two points on appeal, because we find merit in his third. We hold that Thompson's due-process rights were violated when he was denied the opportunity to present evidence at the adjudication hearing, and we reverse and remand for the taking of additional evidence.
I. The Facts
Thompson and Jeannette Stepanian are the parents of twins, A.T. and S.T. Stepanian is also the mother of ten-year-old C.S. Thompson and Stepanian have a history of domestic disturbances within their relationship, which have involved both law enforcement and the Department of Human Services. After an incident of domestic disturbance wherein Stepanian jumped out of a moving vehicle driven by Thompson, she sought and received an order of protection. The order of protection excluded Thompson from her residence and prohibited his contact with A.T. and S.T. Approximately two weeks after receiving the order of protection, Stepanian resumed her relationship with Thompson and allowed him to return to the residence. After DHS was notified of this violation of the protective order, it instituted a protection plan with Stepanian designed to prevent removal of the children from the home. One of the terms of the plan was that Thompson would have absolutely no contact with Stepanian or the children. Two weeks later, the police were advised that Thompson had again violated
the order of protection by meeting with Stepanian. It was this violation that resulted in the Department exercising a 72-hour hold on the children on March 28, 2014.
II. The Hearing
An adjudication hearing was held on June 2, 2014. The parties at the hearing were: the Department, Thompson, Stepanian, and the father of C.S. Each party was represented by counsel, and the children were represented by an attorney ad litem. The Department called five witnesses, including Stepanian and Thompson. After the Department rested, the court turned to the father of C.S. to present his case. Counsel for C.S.'s father stated that he had no witnesses to present and renewed his previous motions. Stepanian's counsel then indicated to the court that she had no witnesses to present either. At that point, the ad litem informed the court that she had no testimony to present, but that she did have some argument. The court then invited the ad litem to continue with her arguments by stating, " Please." The ad litem then presented her argument, followed by the Department's and the mother's response thereto. The court then, for the first time, turned to Thompson's counsel for input. Thompson's attorney informed the court that additional witness testimony was necessary. Thompson's counsel informed the court that he wished to recall Thompson and Stepanian to rebut testimony presented in the Department's case-in-chief, as well as three character witnesses. The trial court questioned why counsel had waited until after the matter had been placed under consideration to present his ...