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In re Adoption of K.W.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 27, 2014

IN RE THE ADOPTION OF K.W.: M.W., Appellant-Respondent,
v.
S.L. and T.L., Appellee-Petitioner

M.W., APPELLANT, Pro se, Lexington, Kentucky.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: REBECCA L. LOCKARD, Jeffersonville, Indiana.

MATHIAS, Judge. RILEY, J., and CRONE, J., concur.

OPINION

MATHIAS, Judge

M.W. (" Father" ) raises two issues on appeal. We address the dispositive issue, which we restate as whether the trial court violated Father's due process rights when it failed to rule on his request for appointed counsel. Finding that Father's due process rights were violated, we reverse and remand.

Facts and Procedural History

K.W. was born on July 31, 2004 to A.W. (" Mother" ) and Father. In the spring of 2008, Mother became ill with Crohn's disease. Dissatisfied with her treatment by physicians, Father, an emergency medical technician, began stealing IV supplies, fluids, and medications to give to Mother. On March 26, 2009, Mother died after Father injected her with a lethal dose of pain medication. Father was arrested on September 30, 2009. Six days after Father's arrest, on October 5, 2009, S.L., K.W.'s maternal grandmother (" Grandmother" ) received guardianship of K.W. On February

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26, 2010, Father pleaded guilty in Jefferson County, Kentucky to Class D felony reckless homicide, Class D felony practicing medicine without a license, Class D felony theft by unlawful taking, and Class D felony theft of a legend drug. Father was ordered to serve a twelve-year sentence in the Kentucky Department of Correction.

On March 25, 2013, Grandmother and her husband, K.W.'s step-grandfather, (collectively " Grandparents" ) filed a petition to adopt K.W.[1] and a notice of adoption was issued to Father. On April 15, 2013, Father filed a pro se appearance. On the same day, he also filed a request that the trial court appoint counsel for him, alleging that he was indigent and that he had sought counsel without success. The trial court did not rule on Father's request for appointment of counsel.[2]

The trial court held a hearing on Grandparents' petition on July 30, 2013. Grandparents appeared with counsel and Father appeared pro se and telephonically. On September 4, 2013, the trial court found that the consent of Father was not needed in K.W.'s adoption and that it would be in K.W.'s best interests to be adopted by Grandparents. The trial court entered a decree of adoption, thereby terminating Father's parental rights to K.W.

Father now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

Father argues that the trial court violated his due process rights when it failed to rule on his request for appointed counsel. The dispositive question in this case is one related to the constitutionality of the trial court's judgment. We therefore review the trial court's decision de novo. Goodson v. Carlson,888 ...


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