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In re J.W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Geauga

May 25, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: J.W., M.W., L.W., AND K.W., ABUSED, NEGLECTED AND DEPENDENT CHILDREN

          Civil Appeal from the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Case No. 2014 JF 000213.

          James R. Flaiz, Geauga County Prosecutor, and Kelly M. Wallenfelsz, Assistant Prosecutor, (For Appellee, Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services).

          Gregory J. Wysin, (For Appellant, Alison Ward).

          Jay F. Crook, Shryock, Crook & Associates, LLP, (For Geauga County CASA).

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Alison Ward, appeals the September 19, 2017 judgment terminating her parental rights and granting permanent custody of her four minor children to the Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services ("GCDJFS").

         {¶2} Appellant raises four assignments of error.

         {¶3} "[1.] The trial court committed reversible, plain error by acting outside the bounds of its jurisdiction when it extended temporary custody of the children to the Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services beyond the two-year limitation mandated by R.C. 2151.415(D)(4) in its judgment issued December 16, 2016.

         {¶4} "[2.] The trial court committed plain, reversible error by acting outside the bounds of its jurisdiction when it proceeded to entertain custodial motions after it had ostensibly vacated its December 16, 2016 judgment entry granting legal custody to the Mannings, and failed to return the children into either their mother's custody, or into the legal custody of the Mannings.

         {¶5} "[3.] The court committed reversible error when it found that the Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services had engaged in reasonable case planning and diligent efforts to assist Ms. Ward in repairing her relationships with her children and to finalize permanency for the children after those efforts were subverted by a rogue GAL, acting beyond the scope of her appointment, and assisted by the children's counsel.

         {¶6} "[4.] The court committed reversible error when it permitted counsel for the Department of Job and Family Services to prosecute the permanent custody motion despite the fact that the same attorney had previously represented mother during the pendency of the proceedings pursuant to an indigent court appointment."

         {¶7} In her fourth assignment of error, appellant claims reversible error based on a violation of her Sixth Amendment Right to conflict-free assistance of counsel. She contends the trial court erred in permitting Donovan DeLuca, counsel for GCDJFS, to prosecute the permanent custody motion even though he had previously represented her during the pendency of the proceedings pursuant to court appointment.

         {¶8} Attorney DeLuca was appointed by the trial court on August 4, 2014 as appellant's co-counsel along with the Geauga County Assistant Public Defender, Colleen R. Del Balso, to represent her at an adjudicatory hearing set seven days later, August 11, 2014. The next day, August 5, 2014, the Geauga County Assistant Public Defender moved for leave to withdraw as counsel for appellant. For cause, Del Balso details her efforts to meet with appellant, and appellant's responses in which she cancels the prescheduled meetings. Del Balso also advises the court of appellant's repeated statements that she is hiring Attorney Paul Mooney to represent her. The trial court granted Del Balso's motion on the same day it was filed. Attorney Paul Mooney filed his notice of appearance for appellant, a motion for discovery, and a motion to continue the adjudicatory hearing on August 7, 2014. Attorney DeLuca is not listed as co-counsel and is likewise not listed in the certificate of service. The trial court granted appellant's motions on August 8, 2014 and does not list Attorney DeLuca as an attorney receiving a copy of the judgment via Civ.R. 58(B). On August 13, 2014, the trial court sua sponte "dismisses" Attorney DeLuca as appellant's attorney.

         {¶9} There are no pleadings filed on appellant's behalf by Attorney DeLuca, and appellant does not direct our attention to any resulting prejudice from DeLuca's limited appearance. She did not object or argue that ...


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