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Langston v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

December 12, 2018

KAREN LANGSTON APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 26JV-17-179] HONORABLE LYNN WILLIAMS, JUDGE

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor child.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE

         Karen Langston appeals the termination of her parental rights. She argues that the circuit court erred in denying her court-appointed attorney's request to withdraw from the case after Langston had expressed a desire (through her attorney) to hire a new attorney and to no longer have court-appointed counsel represent her. She also points out various ways in which her counsel allegedly stumbled during the termination hearing. We affirm the termination of Langston's parental rights.

         I.

         In the spring of 2017, Karen Langston's son, K.L., was removed from her custody and adjudicated dependent-neglected. K.L. was at risk of substantial harm due to Karen's use of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs. The record shows that Karen failed to comply with the court's orders for nearly a year. In April 2018, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) petitioned the Garland County Circuit Court to terminate her parental rights.

         The circuit court convened a termination hearing on 23 May 2018. Karen was not present. Before the hearing began, Karen's attorney told the court that he had spoken with her the day before and that Karen had sent two emails telling him that he was fired and that she was going to hire a new attorney. He asked the court to allow him to withdraw from representation. No written motion to withdraw was filed, and the record lacks any other written or oral requests from Karen that she be allowed to change her attorney. Consequently, the record provides no explanation why Karen wanted her court-appointed attorney replaced.

         DHS opposed the oral motion to withdraw and argued that Karen had been served under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 5 and she "had well over a month to fire an attorney and hire another one." The attorney ad litem remained neutral on the subject. The circuit court denied Karen's attorney's motion, stating, "I don't know where she [Karen] is in regard to hiring counsel. I'm going to deny the motion and I don't know where that leaves you [parent counsel] in regard to ethically in this situation." Karen's attorney responded,

Your Honor, I'll defend her to the best of my ability. We were-up until yesterday afternoon we were actively working, developing the facts of the case and making recommendations of the case, so, you know, as of yesterday afternoon I felt like I was preparing with my client so that I could fully and competently [represent her] in the hearing today.

         The court then told the attorney that he would be allowed to withdraw "after we get the findings in this case" and the findings were reported to Karen.

         The hearing continued without Karen, and her parental rights were terminated. ...


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