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In re J.W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Geauga

June 26, 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, Courthouse Annex, 231 Main Street, Suite 3A, Chardon, OH 44024 (For Appellee, Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services).

          Gregory J. Wysin, 2037 Brady Lake Road, Kent, OH 44240 (For Appellant, Alison Ward).

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, P. JUDGE

         {¶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"). We affirm.

         {¶2} On June 10, 2014, GCDJFS filed a complaint alleging that appellant's children, J.W., M.W., L.W., and K.W., were neglected and dependent children and that L.W. was also an abused child. The complaint alleged that in June of 2014, appellant was intoxicated and contacted the police seeking the removal of her children from the home. She had threatened the children causing them to be fearful for their safety. The police removed the children and placed them into temporary custody of GCDJFS. Appellant was arrested and charged with domestic violence.

         {¶3} Dotty Ciciretto was appointed guardian ad litem ("GAL") for the children. On October 31, 2014, the children were adjudicated dependent and L.W. was also found to be abused. The children were placed together in a foster home in central Ohio, moved to a second in Geauga County, and finally a third in Bowling Green, Ohio.

         {¶4} Appellant was convicted of attempted child endangering, and in October 2015, she violated the terms of her probation. Thereafter, she successfully completed treatment for alcohol addiction.

         {¶5} In December of 2015, the children's father, James Ward, moved for legal custody of the children. He was represented by counsel at the time, but his attorney moved to withdraw in January of 2016 citing fundamental disagreements with her client's directives. The trial court granted counsel's motion to withdraw and noted in part, "the Court will not appoint a third free lawyer to father to pursue his private custody claim."

         {¶6} On May 5, 2016, GCDJFS moved the court to grant legal custody of the children to their paternal aunt and uncle, Susan and Steven Manning ("the Mannings"). The children's father is listed on the certificate of service as residing in South Carolina. He did not file anything in opposition to this motion.

         {¶7} Father also filed a motion for a Thanksgiving visit that states in part that he does not have a driver's license, but that he owns a four-bedroom home that he would like the children to visit and "see the home that they would be living in." The trial court noted that it would address his motion for a Thanksgiving visit at the upcoming motions hearing.

         {¶8} Thereafter, father moved for an eight-week continuance of the hearing explaining that he was physically unable to attend due to his physical injuries. He states he is unable to work, travel, and is "medicated" due to tremendous pain. He also moved for copies of all court records and another motion for court-appointed counsel on November 28, 2016. His motion for counsel was denied because he failed to complete the necessary paperwork and provide copies of his 2015 tax returns and 2016 pay stubs. The trial court also overruled father's motion for a continuance because he failed to provide anything from a doctor validating his injuries. Notwithstanding, the trial court permitted father to participate in the upcoming proceedings via Skype or telephone and ordered him to provide his current contact information to the court to facilitate his participation in the proceedings.

         {¶9} At the December 5, 2016 hearing the trial court noted that father failed to appear and that it attempted to contact him via phone without success. Notwithstanding his absence, the trial court again considered his motions and found that he had not produced the necessary documentation to establish indigency for court-appointed counsel and likewise failed to provide the court with documentation verifying his injuries and inability to attend the court proceedings. Thus, his motions to continue and appointed counsel were denied.

         {¶10} The parties present at the hearing agreed for legal custody of the children to be placed with the Mannings, finding in part:

         {¶11} "The Court hereby finds that in the best interests of the children, legal custody of J.W., M.W., L.W., & K.W. is granted to Susan and Steven Manning effective June 15, 2017. GCJFS shall continue to maintain temporary custody of J.W., M.W., L.W., & K.W. until June 15, 2017. GCJFS shall continue to maintain J.W., M.W., L.W., & K.W. in their current foster home placement with Mr. & Mrs. Brown through the end of the 2016-2017 schoolyear.

         {¶12} "Marty Gelfand, counsel for [appellant], indicated that [she] wishes to withdraw her Motion for Dispositional Order Returning Children to mother at this time.

         {¶13} "* * *

         {¶14} "The Case Plan shall continue as previously Ordered.

         {¶15} "[Appellant's] visitation with the children shall continue as previously Ordered.

         {¶16} "The children shall continue to attend individual counseling services as recommended by their counselors).

         {¶17} "GCJFS shall make a referral to initiate family counseling services for [appellant] and the children. GCJFS shall use its best efforts to facilitate ongoing family counseling for [appellant] and the children as recommended by the children's counselors) and the family counselor.

         {¶18} "[Appellant] is permitted to exchange text messages with the children; said text messages are subject to monitoring ...


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