People in the Interest of E.B.
2022 COA 8. No. 21CA0346. Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parent–Child Legal Relationship—Continuance for Technical Difficulties.
January 6, 2022
The Jefferson County Division of Children, Youth and Families (division) moved to terminate the legal relationship between father and the child. At the start of the termination hearing, father’s counsel entered his appearance and noted that father was not present but made no record as to why. Midway through the hearing, the court alerted counsel that father may have been intermittently trying to log in to the hearing. The court took a recess. Following the recess, the county attorney represented that the paternal grandfather had just let her know that father was trying to access the hearing.
At the request of father’s counsel, the court then paused the proceeding so counsel could have time to reach out to father. Counsel was unable to reach him and requested a continuance so that father could testify at a later date. He indicated that father had tried to contact him several times since being released from jail 12 days earlier. The court resumed the hearing without ruling on father’s request. Counsel renewed his request for a continuance during closing argument. He also asserted that the paternal grandparents had informed him that father had tried to log on to the hearing but had been asked to leave the gas station where he was using the Wi-Fi. Counsel also reiterated that he wanted to present father’s testimony. The juvenile court denied the request and granted the division’s motion to terminate father’s parental rights.
Father contended on appeal that the juvenile court abused its discretion by denying his request to continue the termination hearing because he lacked internet access to appear and testify at the hearing via Webex. A parent must receive adequate notice of a termination hearing and the opportunity to be heard and defend, including the right to call witnesses. Holding a termination hearing via Webex affords a parent due process when, among other things, the court is willing to make accommodations to ensure that a parent who wants to personally participate in the hearing is able to do so. Here, father made multiple attempts to communicate with his counsel during the 12-day period between his release from custody and the termination hearing, and the record reveals that father made efforts to secure Wi-Fi access so he could participate in the hearing. Accordingly, the juvenile court abused its discretion by denying father’s request to continue the termination hearing.
The termination judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to reconsider the termination of father’s parental rights.