Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler
IN RE: J. F.
FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS JUVENILE DIVISION
Case No. JN2017-0092
Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, John
C. Heinkel, Government Services Center, for appellee
Search Law Firm, Lorraine M. Search, for appellant
1} Father appeals the decision of the Butler County
Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, which granted
Butler County Children Services permanent custody of
Father's biological child, J.F. For the reasons discussed
below, this court affirms the award of permanent custody.
2} On March 7, 2017, Butler County Children Services
("BCCS" or "the agency") filed a
complaint alleging that J.F was a dependent child. The agency
alleged that J.F.'s mother was depressed, homicidal,
suicidal, hearing voices, and abusing substances. The
complaint further alleged that J.F.'s father was
incarcerated at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. BCCS
requested temporary custody of J.F., which the court granted
on the same day in an emergency ex parte order.
3} In April 2017, the juvenile court held a hearing,
at which Mother appeared. Father, who was still incarcerated,
did not appear. Mother stipulated to J.F.'s dependency
and the court found J.F. dependent. The court continued
temporary custody with the agency.
4} Over the course of the ensuing year, Mother
continued to struggle with the issues that caused J.F.'s
removal. The court held several review hearings at which it
was determined that it was in J.F.'s best interest to
extend temporary custody with BCCS. Finally, on July 30,
2018, BCCS moved for permanent custody of J.F. The court
subsequently appointed counsel to represent Father in the
permanent custody proceedings.
5} The court scheduled the permanent custody hearing
for November 5, 2018, with a pretrial hearing set for October
22, 2018. On October 19, the agency filed a notice of intent
to use evidence at the hearing. This evidence consisted of
six documents, including social summaries, substance abuse
and mental illness assessments, home studies, and an Ohio
Department of Corrections website printout reflecting details
concerning Father's incarceration.
6} At the October 22, 2018 pretrial, Father's
counsel indicated that there was the possibility that Father
might be released from prison as early as April 2019 and
therefore asked the court to continue the permanent custody
hearing. The court indicated it would not continue the case
as the child had been in the agency's temporary custody
for 589 days.
7} On October 31, 2018, Father moved for a
continuance of the permanent custody hearing, reiterating the
same arguments concerning a potential early release from
prison. Father further indicated he was willing to engage in
case plan services in order to reunify with J.F.
Simultaneously, Father moved the court to order him
transported to the Butler County Juvenile Court for the
hearing. The court denied both motions in an entry issued on
November 1, 2018.
8} The juvenile court held the permanent custody
hearing as scheduled on November 5, 2018. Mother was present.
Father was not present but was represented by counsel.
Father's counsel indicated that Father wished to oppose
the permanent custody motion but could not appear personally
because of his incarceration. Father's counsel reiterated
Father's requests to continue the hearing and to be
transported to the hearing. The court again denied these
9} Mother then surrendered her custodial rights.
Next, the guardian recommended that the court grant permanent
custody of J.F. to the agency. Afterwards, the agency offered
to submit the documents it had referred to in the earlier
filed notice of intent to use evidence. No objection was made
by any party to this procedure or to potential hearsay in the
documents. The court admitted those documents pursuant to its
local rule. No contested hearing was held, and no witnesses
testified. Again, no objections were made to this procedure.
10} On the same day of the hearing, the magistrate
issued a decision recommending that the juvenile court grant
permanent custody to BCCS. The decision indicated that Father
had failed to appear for the hearing and was found in
default. The decision referred to the documents submitted by
the agency and adopted the facts in those documents as