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Joslin v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 15, 2019



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Ellen K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge.

         Appellant Charles Joslin appeals the October 2018 order of the Crawford County Circuit Court that terminated his parental rights to his three daughters, KJ (born in 2002), AJ (born in 2004), and EJ (born in 2006).[1] Joslin does not challenge the circuit court's finding that the Department of Human Services (DHS) proved multiple statutory grounds on which to terminate his parental rights. On appeal, Joslin challenges (1) the circuit court's finding that termination of his parental rights was in the children's best interest and (2) the circuit court's evidentiary ruling that Joslin would not be permitted to call EJ as a witness during the termination-of-parental-rights hearing. We affirm.

         Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3) (Supp. 2017), an order forever terminating parental rights shall be based on a finding by clear and convincing evidence that (1) there are one or more statutory grounds and (2) it is in the best interest of the juvenile, including consideration of the likelihood that the juvenile will be adopted and the potential harm to the health and safety of the child if returned to the custody of the parent. We review termination-of-parental-rights orders de novo but will not reverse the circuit court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Harjo v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 268, 548 S.W.3d 865. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court is left on the entire evidence with the firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Id. We must defer to the superior position of the circuit court to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Ewasiuk v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 59, 540 S.W.3d 318. On appellate review, this court gives a high degree of deference to the circuit court, which is in a far superior position to observe the parties before it. Id. Termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of parents, but parental rights will not be enforced to the detriment or destruction of the health and well-being of the child. Id.

         In this case, the circuit court found that there were multiple statutory grounds on which to terminate Joslin's parental rights, which Joslin does not challenge on appeal.[2] The circuit court also found that it was in these children's best interest to terminate parental rights. Under the umbrella of the children's best interest, the circuit court specifically considered that the girls were adoptable and found that there was potential harm to the girls if their father was given custody. Joslin concedes that the circuit court technically complied with the mandate to consider these two best-interest factors. Joslin argues, however, that the overall evidence does not support that it is in the best interest of these girls to terminate their father's rights and extinguish the familial relationships. This, he argues, goes against the statutory purpose in the Juvenile Code to "preserve and strengthen the juvenile's family ties when it is in the best interest of the juvenile" to do so. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-302(2)(A) (Repl. 2015). We are not left with a distinct and firm impression that the circuit court made a mistake in its findings on the children's best interest.

         KJ, AJ, and EJ went into DHS custody after Joslin's arrest in May 2017 for domestic battery, domestic assault, public intoxication, and interfering with emergency communications. He was arrested because he hit all the girls, and he dragged KJ on the floor by the hoodie she was wearing, which choked KJ.[3] Joslin had custody of AJ and EJ, so DHS took emergency custody of those two children. Joslin's ex-wife had custody of KJ, but DHS took emergency custody of KJ in June 2017 because the mother was using drugs, she left KJ with improper supervision, and the home was in squalor. In July 2017, the paternal grandmother petitioned to intervene, asserting she had been CJ's primary caretaker for most of CJ's life, that her parents had a very limited relationship with CJ, and that CJ should stay in the only home she had ever known.[4]

         KJ was placed in the foster care of Glen Jorgensen and his wife, EJ was placed with her maternal aunt Janice Stanier, and AJ was placed sometimes with the Jorgensens and sometimes in a sub-acute therapeutic facility. Over the next year, Joslin was provided reunification services. Among other things, Joslin was ordered to clear up his legal issues, attend parenting and anger-management classes, go to drug rehabilitation, provide child support, attend supervised visits, and cooperate with DHS.

         By May 2018, it was apparent that the mother was not going to try to reunify with the girls, and Joslin had made minimal progress. In the May 2018 permanency-planning hearing, the circuit court authorized DHS to file a petition to terminate parental rights, and it set a concurrent goal of permanent placement with a fit and willing relative and guardianship for one or more of the children. The circuit court found that Joslin was not making progress; he continued to show inappropriate parenting techniques when he visited his children; he was discharged from an inpatient treatment facility after an altercation with another resident; he failed to contact DHS after his discharge to reinstate a visitation schedule; he did not submit to drug screens; he did not have stable housing or a stable job; he had been incarcerated multiple times; and he was uncooperative with DHS.

         In June 2018, DHS filed its petition to terminate parental rights. The initial September 2018 setting for the termination hearing was continued for three weeks at Joslin's request so that he could complete a different drug-rehabilitation program. The hearing was conducted approximately sixteen months after the girls had been taken into DHS custody.

         Joslin was still in drug rehabilitation; he had no home; he had been in jail multiple times over the course of this case; he pleaded guilty to domestic battery of KJ and to violating his ex-wife's no-contact order. Joslin agreed that he had not completed an array of the court's requirements, including domestic-violence classes, drug rehabilitation, or parenting classes. Joslin said that his drug of choice was opiate pills, but he had not used drugs for six weeks. He had attended some therapy and had begun taking an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, but he acknowledged that controlling his anger had been a big issue for him. Joslin is a carpenter and believed that he could always find employment. Joslin testified that his girls have a close relationship with his mother and their younger sister CJ.

         Joslin's rehabilitation-facility case manager testified that Joslin had been in his facility for about three weeks and had embraced his treatment plan. The case manager expected him to complete the program and then move ...

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