FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. 72JV-17-717.
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE.
Lanford, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge. GRUBER, C.J., agrees.
VIRDEN, J., concurs.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge
Washington County Circuit Court terminated the parental
rights of Nathan
Fox to his three children, NF, AF1, and AF2. On appeal, Fox
argues that the termination order should be reversed because
he was denied his statutory right to counsel. We affirm the
circuit court's order.
September 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services
(DHS) petitioned for emergency custody of nine-month-old NF,
eight-year-old AF1, and twelve-year-old AF2. The supporting
affidavit explained that on September 16, DHS exercised
emergency custody of NF after her mother, Angela Terry, had
been arrested. That same day, DHS visited the family
home. Nathan was present with AF1 and AF2, and DHS exercised
emergency custody of the children after finding the home
unsuitable for children. The affidavit stated, " Legal
custody was removed [from] Angela Terry and physical custody
was removed from Nathan Fox[.]" The petition identified
Terry as the children's mother and Fox as the putative
father. The circuit court entered an ex parte order for
emergency custody on September 18; that order recited, "
The parent(s) or guardian(s) have a right to an attorney at
each stage of the proceedings. Legal assistance may be
obtained by retaining private counsel, contacting Legal
Services . . . or if indigent, requesting the Court to
appoint legal counsel."
probable-cause order, entered on September 19, appointed
counsel for Terry and ordered her to maintain contact with
her attorney. The order also ordered Fox to " take
appropriate steps to resolve the issue of paternity by
submitting to a DNA test." The court found that Fox was
indigent and ordered DHS to pay for the DNA testing. On
October 18, the court entered an order of paternity finding
that Fox is the " biological and legal father" of
all three children.
October 20, the circuit court adjudicated the children
dependent-neglected based on environmental neglect and
parental unfitness. The court reiterated that Terry was
required to maintain contact with her attorney, but no
mention was made of Fox. The court made a specific finding
that both parents were indigent. A review order on 14
February 2018 did not list an attorney for Fox in the
caption, but a review order on June 15 and a
permanency-planning order on September 6 indicated that Fox
was proceeding pro se.
January 2019, the circuit court entered a fifteen-month
permanency-planning order and changed the goal of the case
from reunification to authorizing a plan of adoption with DHS
filing a petition for termination of parental rights. That
order stated, " Having set the goal to be adoption, the
Court has determined that the legal parent father has not yet
been appointed counsel and requests appointment of counsel
today, and the Court determines the parent father IS indigent
and counsel IS appointed for the parent father[.]" The
court convened a termination hearing on April 19; at the
start of the hearing, DHS introduced twenty exhibits,
including prior orders, reports, and an acknowledgment of
paternity executed by both Terry and Fox at the time of each
child's birth. On 28 May 2019, the circuit court entered
an order terminating Fox's parental rights.
circuit court's order that terminates parental rights
must be based on findings proved by clear and convincing
evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § ...