FROM THE HOWARD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 31PR-2014-64-1]
HONORABLE TOM COOPER, JUDGE.
Law Firm, by: Tim S. Parker, for appellant.
Law Firm, by: Benny M. Tucker, for appellees.
J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge
Pamela Reagan appeals the November 2, 2015 order by the
Howard County Circuit Court granting guardianship over her
three minor children to Pamela's mother and stepfather,
appellees Julie Dodson and Dennis Dodson. Pamela is not
challenging the facts supporting the trial court's
decision finding her unfit and placing her three children
with the Dodsons; rather, she argues that the trial court
erred in denying her motion to dismiss the guardianship
petition and motion for directed verdict, which were based on
two facts: (a) the original guardianship petition was
unsigned; and (b) the Dodsons, as petitioners, never served
or gave notice to Jeremy Pumphrey, the biological father of
Pamela's children. She also argues that the trial court
erred when it granted guardianship to the Dodsons without
determining whether Pumphrey was unfit. We affirm.
is the mother of C.P., age six; C.P., age three, and K.P.,
age two. The Dodsons originally were represented by Gregory
Vardaman, but later substituted Jana Bradford as counsel.
Pamela was originally represented by attorney Darryl Taylor.
She too later substituted counsel, eventually being
represented by Tim Parker. The petitions for guardianship
allege that Pumphrey is the biological father of all three
children, and his name appears on their birth certificates.
November 26, 2014, the Dodsons filed a verified ex parte
petition for emergency guardianship of the person and estate,
alleging that Pamela's three children were in danger due
to her drug use as evidenced by a meth pipe being removed
from the hands of Pamela's then ten-month old baby and
Pamela's intention to reunite with Pumphrey, the alleged
putative father, who until recently had been incarcerated.
The trial judge signed the emergency ex-parte temporary
guardianship over the children to the petitioners the same
day. Thereafter, the temporary guardianship was extended
numerous times, and twice upon the agreement of the parties.
signed amended petition for guardianship was filed by new
counsel on September 10, 2015, and on September 29, 2015, a
hearing was conducted in the Howard County Circuit Court.
Pamela's attorney, Parker, after reviewing the court file
and prior to testimony being taken, called to the trial
court's attention in chambers, for the first time almost
a year into the case, the fact that the original emergency
petition for guardianship had not been signed prior to
filing. Immediately before the final hearing began, Parker
orally moved to dismiss the proceedings because the original
emergency petition, although verified by Mrs. Dodson, had not
been signed by Vardaman. He argued that it was a void
pleading and that the trial court had no jurisdiction. The
trial court inquired as to whether Parker had any case law
involving children where the trial court was found not to
have jurisdiction requiring the case to be dismissed, and
Parker replied that he did not. This deficiency, as well as
Pamela's objections and motion, were put on the record in
the courtroom shortly afterward with Pamela's attorney
arguing the same grounds for dismissal as well as that the
children's biological father, Pumphrey, had not been
served and had received no notice of the hearings in the
trial court allowed the Dodsons' counsel, Bradford, to
respond, and she acknowledged the unsigned emergency petition
filed with the trial court on November 26, 2014, that was
verified by her clients. Bradford explained that since that
time period, there had been two temporary orders entered and
that Pamela had filed a motion to continue the temporary
guardianship pending completion of discovery on or about June
29, 2015. Bradford noted that previously there had been no
objection to the fact that the attorney did not sign the
original verified petition.
also explained that, since taking over as counsel, she had
filed a signed amended petition on the guardianship, along
with an alternative motion for grandparents' visitation
rights, none of which had been responded to by Pamela. She
stated that two motions for drug screens had been filed, one
for Pamela and one for Pumphrey, the putative father, and
neither of those had been responded to by Pamela. Parker
responded that because Pumphrey had not been served, he would
not be required to respond to it. Parker stated that he did
not think he had ever consented to any time extensions.
denying the motion to dismiss, the trial court ruled that,
with respect to the petition not being signed, in this
situation where the grandparents had the children in their
care and the mother was there, the court could not imagine
that it would not be in the best interest of the children for
it to hear the case and make a determination on the petition.
conclusion of the Dodsons' case and at the conclusion of
the hearing, Parker moved for directed verdict on the same
basis that had been raised before-that the original petition
had not been signed, which rendered the matter a nullity. The
trial court again denied the motion and the renewal.
trial court granted the petition for guardianship on November
2, 2015. The guardianship order included findings that Pamela
was unfit and that a guardianship was necessary for the
children based on overwhelming evidence, including
Pamela's drug use, the children's malnutrition, and
one child's broken arm without evidence that medical
treatment was provided. According to the order, Pamela did
not visit the children from the time of the ex parte hearing
and the temporary hearing until the final hearing. Pamela was
convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia subsequent to
the filing of the petition for guardianship. The trial court
made a finding that Pamela continued to associate with the