In re Jeisean M.

Connecticut Supreme Court

270 Conn. 382 (2004)

July 24, 2004

 

In a companion case to the significant Supreme Court case of Jeisean M. (see Jeisean M., 270 Conn. 406), the Supreme Court affirmed the termination of parental rights of a mother who indulged in illegal substance abuse and failed to adequately rehabilitate herself in the eyes of the trial court.

Jeisean M. was born on December 23, 1999. He and his mother lived with her sister who helped care for Jeisean. On one occasion in March 2000, the mom left Jeisean in her aunt’s care and did not return that night or the next morning. While mom was out of the house, Jeisean began to have difficulty breathing, and the aunt, who could not drive him to the hospital, called the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for assistance. After Jeisean received appropriate care, a DCF investigator interviewed Jeisean’s mom, who said that she had not returned home the previous evening because she had passed out after ingesting the drug Ecstasy. These actions resulted in DCF seeking and obtaining an order of temporary custody and Jeisean’s placement in a foster home.

Over the next several months, a DCF social worker made efforts to engage Jeisean’s mom in rehabilitation efforts so that reunification could occur. However, despite referrals to several agencies offering free services and transportation, the mother failed to comply. On June 20, 2000 the court adjudicated Jeisean a neglected child who required specialized care and committed him to DCF’s custody through June 20, 2001. The court also ordered specific steps for the mom to complete to effectuate reunification. These included remaining clean and sober, attending parenting classes, visiting with Jeisean on a weekly basis, finding stable income and finding a place to live. Jeisean’s mother failed in all respects except for the parenting classes, which she passed and received a certificate of completion.

The juvenile court held a hearing on May 17, 2001 at which time the court extended Jeisean’s commitment for another year, indicating that it was no longer in Jeisean’s best interest to continue reunification efforts. The court proposed a permanency plan calling for the termination of parental rights (“TPR”) and adoption. In July 2001, DCF petitioned for TPR based on the theory that it was no longer appropriate to reunify Jeisean and his mother and the fact that mom had “failed to achieve such degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time…[Jeisean’s mother] could assume a responsible position in [his] life…[1] ”

In November 2001, the court held a TPR trial, at which time new counsel represented Mom [2]. At trial, DCF admitted that it had forgotten to previously ask the judge to take judicial notice of the facts found at the May 17, 2001 hearing. Mother’s attorney objected based on the fact that he was not counsel of record at the time of the findings of fact and that therefore he was unable to assess the lawfulness of the proceedings. After argument, the court overruled the objection and took judicial notice of the previous findings of fact. On February 15, 2002, the trial court granted the TPR petition, finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in Jeisean’s best interest and that Jeisean’s mother had failed to achieve sufficient personal rehabilitation as required under Conn. Gen. Stat. §17a-112(j).

On appeal, mom contended that the trial court improperly took judicial notice of the May 17, 2001 findings of fact. She based her argument on the premise that statutorily, DCF is required to give timely notice of its request for the court to take judicial notice of fact [3]. The Court demurred, however, indicating that pursuant to State v. Zayas [4], as long as the actions are between the same parties, a court can take judicial notice of any fact as long as the parties are each offered an opportunity to be heard on the issue.

Here, the court afforded Jeisean’s mother the opportunity to be heard on the issue regardless of the fact that DCF had not announced its intent to introduce the previous findings of fact. In addition, since the parties were the same and the same standards of proof applied, the fact that there was different counsel did not make a difference in the judge’s decision of whether to take judicial notice of facts. Furthermore, the attorney of record during the November 2001 termination hearing was Mom’s attorney for over three months, giving him plenty of time to assess the lawfulness of the proceedings and raise any objections he may have had.

This case may be accessed on-line by going to the state’s Judicial Department website by going to www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROcr/CR270/270cr91.pdf

(Johanna Gordon, Legal Intern 8/04)

[1] Conn. Gen. Stat. §17a-112(j)

[2] Mom’s former council’s motion for withdrawal was granted after Mom failed to maintain contact with her.

[3] Conn. Code Evid. §2-2

[4] 195 Conn. 611, 615 (1985)

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