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In re A.M.Z.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

August 30, 2019

IN RE: A.M.Z., A.L.Z., T.M.Z., E.Z. AND E.Z.

          Appeals From Hamilton County Juvenile Court TRIAL NO. F17-1650X

         Judgments Appealed From Are Affirmed

          Constance Murdock, for Appellant Mother

          In re Williams Attorney Michael A. Lanzillotta, for Appellants, A.M.Z. and A.L.Z.

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Jacqueline O'Hara, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Julie Pedersen, Assistant Public Defender, Guardian ad Litem for Appellee minor children, A.M.Z., A.L.Z., T.M.Z., E.Z. and E.Z.

          OPINION

          BERGERON, JUDGE.

         {¶1} In this parental termination case, the juvenile court presided over two separate proceedings: one concerning Mother's three older children and another concerning Mother's twin girls, who were born during the course of the initial proceedings. These proceedings generated separate orders granting the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services' (the "agency") application for permanent custody over all five children. Our review of the record reveals no reason to disturb that conclusion. We therefore affirm the juvenile court's decisions.

         I.

         {¶2} This case began with the agency's emergency, ex parte motion for an interim order of temporary custody of A.M.Z., A.L.Z., and T.M.Z. due to, among other things, chronic homelessness, drug use, domestic violence, and criminal infractions on the part of their parents. Another sibling, A.Y.-C, had been subject to this proceeding, but subsequently reached the age of majority. A.M.Z., A.L.Z., and T.M.Z. were adjudicated dependent, with A.L.Z. also being adjudicated neglected. The agency later moved to modify temporary custody to permanent custody. With that motion pending, the children's paternal grandmother petitioned for custody. After trials on both motions, the magistrate granted the agency's permanent custody motion, to which Mother and Father objected. The juvenile court accepted the magistrate's decision over these objections and granted the agency permanent custody over the three children.

         {¶3} Between the initial adjudication and subsequent disposition as to the three elder children, Mother gave birth to twins: E.Z.1 and E.Z.2. She and the twins tested positive for cocaine at their birth. As a result, the juvenile court placed the girls in the agency's temporary custody following an emergency, ex parte request for an interim order. In the proceedings regarding the twins, Mother and Father objected to the same magistrate presiding over the case, given that she had just granted permanent custody of their older children to the agency. While the agency initially objected to the move, the parties ultimately agreed to place the adjudication and disposition of the twins before a juvenile court judge (a different juvenile court judge from the judge that would ultimately determine disposition as to A.M.Z., A.L.Z. and T.M.Z). This juvenile court judge adjudicated E.Z.1 and E.Z.2 dependent and neglected and, shortly thereafter, granted the agency's permanent custody motion.

         {¶4} While T.M.Z. was too young to express an opinion, the oldest children, A.M.Z and A.L.Z., through counsel, appeal the entry terminating the parental rights of their parents-having consistently maintained their desire to remain with their parents or another family member. Mother also appeals that entry, as well as the entry granting the agency permanent custody over the twins. We consolidated the cases of all five children into a single proceeding before this court for efficiency's sake.

         II.

         {¶5} Mother and A.M.Z and A.L.Z. assert the same, single assignment of error: that clear and convincing evidence did not support the juvenile court's determination that granting the agency permanent custody was in the children's best interests. Parental termination, the permanent divorce of children from their natural parents, is a "measure of last resort." In re T/R/E/M, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-180703, 2019-Ohio-1427, ¶ 12. Such a judgment is appropriate only after satisfaction of the two-part test set forth in R.C. 2151.414(B): "(1) permanent custody is in the child's best interest and (2) that one of the conditions in R.C. 2151.414(B)(1)[(a)] through (e) applies." In re J.G.S., 1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-180611 and C-180619, 2019-Ohio-802, ¶ 34, citing In re M., R., & H., 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-170008, 2017-Ohio-1431, ¶ 17. The juvenile court's determination concerning this two-part test must be supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record. In re T/R/E/M at ΒΆ 10. Clear and convincing evidence "is evidence sufficient to 'produce in the mind of the ...


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