Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage
from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile
Division, Case No. 2015JCC 00234.
Grist, (For Appellant, Tiffany L. Spencer, Mother).
V. Vigluicci, Portage County Prosecutor, and Brandon J.
Wheeler, Assistant Prosecutor, (For Appellee, Portage County
Department of Job and Family Services).
Richard C. Lombardi, Suite B, Ravenna, (Guardian ad litem).
CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, P.J.
Appellant, Tiffany L. Spencer ("Mother"), appeals
from the September 29, 2016 judgment of the Portage County
Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, ordering that her
child, L.L.S., be placed in the legal custody of Kevin and
Lora Labbe ("the Labbes"). Finding no reversible
error, we affirm.
Mother is the biological mother of L.L.S., d.o.b. March 21,
2005, and L.M.L., d.o.b. March 7, 2007 (collectively
"minor children"). This appeal, Case No.
2016-P-0068, involves L.L.S. Mother's companion appeal,
Case No. 2016-P-0069, involves L.M.L. Mother's arguments
in both appeals are the same. The biological father of the
minor children is Ronald Lemin ("Father"). Father
is not a named party in either appeal.
On March 24, 2015, the minor children were removed from
Mother's care, custody, and control after the Portage
County Drug Task Force found a methamphetamine lab in the
garage of their residence. The next day, appellee, Portage County
Department of Job and Family Services ("PCDJFS"),
filed complaints alleging that the minor children were
abused, neglected, and dependent.
Attorney Richard C. Lombardi ("GAL") was appointed
as guardian ad litem and attorney for the minor children. The
juvenile court also appointed separate counsel for Mother.
A shelter care hearing was subsequently held. The minor
children were placed in the interim pre-dispositional custody
of PCDJFS. On May 14, 2015, the minor children were found to
A dispositional hearing was held on June 16, 2015. A case
plan was agreed to and adopted. The minor children were
placed in the temporary custody of PCDJFS.
In September 2015, Mother and Father filed motions for legal
custody. However, both Mother and Father withdrew those
motions later that year.
On December 14, 2015, the GAL filed a report indicating the
following: he met with the parties at various times; he met
and interviewed the minor children; he met and interviewed
the maternal grandmother; he met, interviewed, and inspected
the home of Mark and Brenda Wakefield ("the
Wakefields"), the minor children's maternal uncle
and aunt; he spoke with psychologists and counselors and
reviewed reports; he met with Mother and Father; he attended
Family Team Meetings; he interviewed the Labbes, who are good
family friends with Mother and have a very good relationship
with the minor children, who have stayed at their home
frequently and are a potential placement for L.L.S.; and
recommended granting legal custody of L.M.L. to the
In addition, a December 14, 2015 case review reveals Mother
scored an "8" on the risk re-assessment scale of
abuse/neglect regarding her parenting of the minor children,
i.e., an actual risk level of "high."
Following a monthly home visit by the caseworker and GAL, on
March 2, 2016, PCDJFS filed a motion for adoption of
permanency plan, to grant legal custody of L.L.S. to the
Labbes (non-relatives) and L.M.L. to the Wakefields
(relatives). As Mother was not in agreement with the plan,
she filed another motion for legal custody on March 10, 2016.
A week later, PCDJFS filed a motion for change of custody
(regarding L.L.S. from the temporary custody of PCDJFS to the
legal custody of the Labbes) and to terminate the case. The
Wakefields filed a motion for legal custody of L.M.L.
On March 18, 2016, a semiannual administrative review was
filed. That review revealed the following: Mother was not
consistent with counseling; Mother and Father lack financial
support for the minor children; Mother and Father have placed
the minor children in unsafe situations and circumstances;
Mother continues to make poor choices for herself and for the
minor children; the minor children have been exposed to
unsafe, unstable, and harmful environments; the minor
children were directly exposed to being in the presence of a
documented unsafe individual (Mother's boyfriend); and
Mother lacks stable housing and has moved three times since
the minor children were removed.
On May 12, 2016, the GAL filed a report indicating the
following: Mother was reported, and did not deny, to be
purchasing large amounts of Sudafed, a key component of
manufacturing methamphetamine; Mother had been charged
shortly before the raid at issue for obstructing official
business and complicity to commit theft; the family residence
was in disarray; the minor children were upset and crying;
clothes and mattresses were scattered all over the floor;
Mother continues to deny there was a meth lab in their
garage; since Mother's oldest child was born in 2005,
Mother had moved approximately 20 times; and Mother's
last residence is a "dump" filled with the stench
of dog manure. The GAL recommended that it is in the minor
children's best interest to be placed into the legal
custody of their respective placements with L.M.L. remaining
with the Wakefields and L.L.S. remaining with the Labbes.
A change of custody hearing was held on May 17, 2016. Prior
to the start of the hearing, Mother, who was represented by
counsel, requested that the court appoint separate counsel
for the minor children. The GAL advised the court he did not
believe that a conflict existed in his dual roles. The court
agreed and denied Mother's oral motion.
At the hearing, testimony was taken from the following:
Alexandria Bevere, a social worker with PCDJFS; Mother; the
Wakefields; and Lora Labbe. Under Mother's care, the
minor children had hygiene issues, had behavioral problems,
and performed poorly in school. After L.M.L.'s placement
with the Wakefields and L.L.S.'s placement with the
Labbes, the minor children no longer have hygiene issues;
their behavioral problems were rectified; their skills have
dramatically increased; they receive good grades in school;
and are now involved in extracurricular activities. Since the
removal of the minor children from Mother's care, both
children have thrived personally, socially, and academically.
Both the Wakefields and the Labbes provide the minor children
with stable, consistent, and nurturing environments. The
minor children have bonded with their respective custodians.
The Wakefields and the Labbes are open to Mother improving
her relationship with the minor children and support
Mother's recovery efforts. L.M.L. advised the GAL she
wants to reside with the Wakefields. L.L.S. has told the GAL
she wants to reside with Mother or the Labbes. L.L.S. made
statements about wanting to live with Mother because she was
scared of hurting Mother's feelings.
In his May 20, 2016 decision, the magistrate recommended
granting legal custody of L.L.S. to the Labbes and L.M.L. to
the Wakefields. Mother filed objections to the
magistrate's decision on June 2, 2016. PCDJFS filed
Following a hearing, on September 29, 2016, the juvenile
court overruled Mother's objections and adopted the
magistrate's decision. The court ordered that it is in
the minor children's best interest for L.L.S. to be
placed in the legal custody of the Labbes and for L.M.L. to
be placed in the legal custody of the Wakefields. Mother
filed timely appeals and raises the following two assignments
"[1.] The Trial Court erred, and abused its discretion,
when it affirmed the Magistrate's Decision to award legal
custody of minor children L.L.S. and L.M.L. to parties other
"[2.] The Trial Court abused its discretion in not
granting Appellant's motion to appoint new counsel for
the minor child L.L.S."
In her first assignment of error, Mother argues the juvenile
court abused its discretion in adopting the magistrate's
decision and awarding legal custody of L.L.S. to the Labbes
and L.M.L. to the Wakefields. Although this appeal only
involves L.L.S., this ...