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In re B.W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

March 31, 2017

IN RE: B.W.

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 14 JC 43680

          BARBARA A. WEBBER, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and CARA M. FINNEGAN, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          CARR, PRESIDING JUDGE

         {¶1} Appellant, Jodie C. ("Mother"), appeals from a judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, that overruled her objections to the magistrate's decision and placed her minor child in the legal custody of a maternal aunt and uncle. Because the trial court erred in failing to disqualify the magistrate who conducted the dispositional hearing, this Court reverses and remands.

         I.

         {¶2} Mother is the natural mother of B.W., born August 23, 2014, the only child at issue in this case. Lorain County Children Services ("LCCS") became involved with Mother and B.W. at the time of the child's birth because Mother had an extensive history with the agency. Notably, through prior juvenile court cases, Mother lost custody of three older children, D.C., S.M., and CM., who were ultimately placed in the legal custody of three different relatives.

         {¶3} B.W. was removed from Mother's custody, later adjudicated a dependent child, and placed in the temporary custody of a maternal aunt under an order of protective supervision. The record does not include transcripts of the adjudicatory or dispositional proceedings.

         {¶4} LCCS ultimately moved the trial court to place B.W. in the legal custody of the maternal aunt. The matter proceeded to a dispositional hearing before a magistrate. During the hearing, when LCCS introduced journal entries from the prior juvenile court cases involving Mother's older children, her trial counsel noticed that the magistrate presiding over the hearing in this case was identified as counsel for the father of two of the children in that case. Mother's counsel explained that he had never seen those journal entries before and was not aware that the magistrate had represented one of the fathers in the prior case. Mother's counsel immediately objected to the magistrate presiding over the dispositional hearing in this case.

         {¶5} The magistrate overruled Mother's objection, explaining that the issue had been resolved at a prior hearing, and proceeded with the dispositional hearing. The magistrate ultimately decided that B.W. should be placed in the legal custody of the maternal aunt.

         {¶6} Mother objected to the magistrate's decision, challenging the decision on its merits and alternatively requesting that the trial court disqualify the magistrate. She asserted that the magistrate's role as counsel for the father in the prior juvenile proceedings raised a question about his ability to be an impartial factfinder in this case. The trial court overruled Mother's objections and placed B.W. in the legal custody of the maternal aunt. Mother appeals and raises two assignments of error. This Court will confine its review to Mother's second assignment of error because it is dispositive.

         II.

         ASSIGNMENT ...


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