In re Amias I.

Decision Date29 June 2022
Docket NumberSC 20671
Parties IN RE AMIAS I. et al.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Matthew C. Eagan, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

Clare Kindall, solicitor general, with whom were Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, and, on the brief, William Tong, attorney general, and Jillian Hira, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Dana E. Clark, for the minor children.

Megan L. Wade and James P. Sexton filed a brief for the Center for Children's Advocacy, Inc., as amicus curiae.

Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, filed a brief for the Office of the Chief Public Defender as amicus curiae.

Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Keller, Js.


The respondent mother, Jennifer S., appeals1 from the judgments of the trial court rendered in favor of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, terminating her parental rights as to her three children, Anaya I., Amias I., and Adelyn I., due to her failure to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation that would encourage the belief that, within a reasonable time, considering the ages and needs of her children, she could assume a responsible role in their lives.2 The respondent claims that, in addition to their statutory right to conflict free counsel established by the legislature in General Statutes § 46b-129a (2) (A),3 this court should hold that her children also had a procedural due process right to such counsel under the state and federal constitutions,4 and that the trial court violated this right by failing to inquire into whether the attorney appointed to represent them, Dana E. Clark, had a conflict of interest due to the children's conflicting goals regarding reunification. Alternatively, the respondent seeks reversal of the judgments pursuant to the plain error doctrine. We conclude that we need not decide whether the respondent's children had a constitutional—as opposed to only a statutory—right to conflict free counsel because, even if they did, it is apparent that any violation of such a right was harmless error. We also decline the respondent's request to apply the plain error doctrine. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

The following facts, which the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence or are otherwise undisputed, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. In March, 2015, the children's pediatrician contacted the Department of Children and Families (department) to voice concerns about domestic violence in the children's home. At the time, the children's father refused to allow investigators from the department to enter the family's home or to interview the children. He did allow an investigator to view the children, however, and, because she saw no visible marks or bruises on them, the department took no further action. In June, 2016, the respondent contacted the department to report intimate partner violence and to request assistance in obtaining secure housing for herself and the children. At that time, the respondent was referred to Community Health Resources for services and assistance. On May 9, 2018, the oldest child, Anaya, who was then ten years old, disclosed to a mandated reporter at her school that her father, while attempting to hit her twelve year old half brother,5 had struck her in the jaw with a closed fist, causing her to fall from her bicycle. Anaya sustained minor injuries and a sore jaw as a result of the incident.

The department's investigation into this incident revealed that the father has a lengthy criminal history in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Florida dating back to 2001, and that the police previously had been called to the children's school due to the father's erratic, paranoid, and threatening behavior. During the 2017–18 school year, Anaya and Amias, who was then seven years old, missed a combined forty-six days of school. When school officials attempted to discuss the matter with the father, he threatened to withdraw the children from school. He also refused to allow Anaya to receive special education services, even though she qualified for them, and refused to allow Amias to be tested for eligibility for those services, despite his apparent need for them. When meeting with school officials, the father would not allow the respondent to sit at the table or otherwise participate in the meetings. Instead, he would order her to sit in the back of the room, telling the officials present that the respondent has "no say" in matters affecting the children and that he is the respondent's "caretaker" and the sole decision maker in the family.

On May 9, 2018, an investigative social worker for the department went to the respondent's home to conduct a welfare check. Although the respondent refused to allow her into the residence, the social worker could see the youngest child, Adelyn, who was then four years old, through the door. Adelyn's hair appeared "messy and unkempt," and her neck and chin were "raw and red" from untreated eczema

. A review of the children's medical records revealed that all of them had unmet dental and health care needs and that Anaya was in immediate need of a tooth extraction. The department also learned that the father would not allow Adelyn to receive medical treatment for her severe eczema.

On May 11, 2018, in response to the department's investigation, the father withdrew Anaya and Amias from school, instructing them that, if anyone asked, they were to say that they were being homeschooled, even though this was not true. On May 14, 2018, the father "left a twelve minute voice mail for the [investigative social worker], demanding that she cease and desist all contact with his family and [informing her] that, by law, he did not have to cooperate with the ‘verbal kidnapping’ of his children." In addition, he "threatened to place a ‘commercial lien’ on the [social worker's] property," asserting that "he was a ‘secure party " and that "the department [was] powerless to intervene with his family." He also "asserted [that he did not believe] in medications or medical intervention" and "warned the [social worker] not to return to his property."

On May 15, 2018, citing medical neglect, educational neglect, physical abuse, and domestic violence, the petitioner filed motions for orders of temporary custody of the children, which the court granted, as well as petitions of neglect on behalf of all three children. At that time, the court provided the respondent and the father with specific steps6 to facilitate reunification and to prevent termination of their parental rights. Among other things, both the respondent and the father were required to keep all appointments set by the department, accept in-home support services as determined by the department, to visit the children as often as the department permitted them to do so, to obtain adequate housing, to let the department know where they were at all times, to complete a domestic violence program, to attend parenting and individual counseling, to permit the department to monitor their progress toward established goals by signing releases that would allow the department to communicate with their service providers, not to get involved with the criminal justice system, and to attend to the children's physical, educational, medical, and emotional needs. Following their removal from the family home, the two older children were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder

in addition to other behavioral and emotional problems.

On May 17, 2018, at a meeting with the department, "the father presented as loud, stressed, paranoid, hostile, and unfocused. He claimed that the department took the children from him as governmental retaliation for his political views."7 He also "threatened the [investigative social worker], telling her, ‘I'm coming for you.’ " On December 25, 2018, "the father posted a video on his Facebook page opining that suicide and violence [are] understandable when children are removed from a parent's home and that he would eventually take justice into his own hands. He [also] threatened to ‘go after the property’ of the department and a judge." On December 26, 2018, "[he] posted an article [on] Facebook [entitled] ‘Is It Ethical for a Parent to Kill a [Child Protective Services] Worker.’ [He also posted] a picture of a man aiming a handgun [with the caption] ‘you will never see it coming.’ " On December 27, 2018, the father was arrested and charged with inciting injury to persons or property and with three counts each of breach of peace and harassment. He was incarcerated for most of 2019 and almost all of 2020.8

On March 14, 2019, the court adjudicated the children neglected and committed them to the care and custody of the petitioner. On April 16, 2019, the court approved a permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption for the children with a concurrent goal of reunification. On August 14, 2019, the petitioner filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of the respondent and the father as to all three children pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i), alleging a failure to rehabilitate.9 A virtual trial on the petitions was held on two days in April, 2021, after which the court issued a memorandum of decision and granted the petitions. The court found by clear and convincing evidence that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunify the children with the respondent and the father but that neither parent had gained sufficient insight into their circumstances or made sufficient progress toward the goals set for them by the department to encourage the belief that they could assume a responsible position in their children's lives at some future date. Specifically, the court stated that "[n]either parent successfully completed the court's specific steps in the...

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3 cases
  • State v. Juan J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 5, 2022
  • In re Marie J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 5, 2023
    ... ... court's judgment. See footnote 14 of this opinion. Our ... state's public policy is to protect children, to provide ... them with permanency, and to handle child protection cases ... efficiently; see In re Amias I, 343 Conn. 816, 842, ... 276 A.3d 955 (2022) (" '[t]ime is of the essence in ... child custody cases' "). In light of this policy, ... the unique procedural posture of this case, and to aid in ... facilitating resolution of any potential future appeal, we ... choose ... ...
  • In re Ryan C.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • July 20, 2023
    ... ... opinion pursuant to Practice Book § 71-6 [ 26 ] is terminated ... in light of the need to adjudicate a child protection case ... expeditiously and to achieve permanency and stability for ... children. See Practice Book § 60-2; see also In re ... Amias I, 343 Conn. 816, 842, 276 A.3d 955 (2022) (" ... '[t]ime is of the essence in child custody cases' ... "). This order is further justified in light of the ... unique procedural posture of this case in which no appellee ... has participated in this appeal and because we ... ...

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