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Langston v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 16, 2019

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.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, Associate Justice.

         Appellant Karen Langston appeals the circuit court order terminating her parental rights. On appeal, she asserts the circuit court erred in denying her court-appointed attorney's request to withdraw after Langston had terminated his services and sought to hire a new attorney. Our court of appeals affirmed the decision of the circuit court. Langston v. State, 2018 Ark.App. 615. Langston petitioned this court for review, which was granted. When we grant a petition for review, we treat the appeal as if it had been originally filed in this court. Holland v. State, 2015 Ark. 341, 471 S.W.3d 179. We affirm the circuit court's order terminating parental rights and vacate the opinion of the court of appeals.

         I. Facts

         In March 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services ("DHS") removed Langston's son, K.L., from her custody, finding that K.L. was at risk of substantial harm due to Langston's use of methamphetamine. The circuit court found that for nearly a year, Langston failed to comply with her case plan and court orders and she had made no progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes of K.L.'s removal. On April 13, 2018, DHS filed a petition in the Garland County Circuit Court for the termination of Langston's parental rights.

         The petition for termination of parental rights was served on Langston on April 20, 2018, and the circuit court convened a termination hearing on May 23rd. Langston did not appear at the termination hearing. Before the hearing began, Langston's attorney informed the court that he had spoken to Langston the day before, and following their conversation, she sent him an email stating he was fired and that she was going to hire a new attorney. He presented the court with an oral motion to withdraw as counsel. There are no oral or written requests in the record from Langston for a continuance or asking that she be allowed a change of attorney.

         DHS opposed the motion to withdraw and argued that Langston had been served under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 5 and that she had over a month to fire her attorney and hire a new one. The attorney ad litem remained neutral on the motion. The circuit court denied the motion and Langston's attorney indicated he was prepared to represent her at the hearing. The hearing continued without Langston, and here parental rights were terminated. She appeals the termination order.

         II. Standard of Review

         This court reviews denials of motions to withdraw for an abuse of discretion. Townsend v. State, 350 Ark. 129, 136, 85 S.W.3d 526, 529 (2002). A court commits an abuse of discretion when it carelessly exercises its discretion without due consideration. Silkman v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, 2015 Ark. 422, at 5, 474 S.W.3d 74, 77.

         III. Arguments and Analysis

         On appeal, Langston argues that the circuit court committed a reversible error by denying her counsel's motion to withdraw. She claims that by denying the motion, the circuit court violated her Sixth Amendment right to counsel of one's choosing. Langston's attorney did not object to the circuit court's ruling on the motion to withdraw, ...


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