Mississippi court: parent should've been appointed counsel in termination case

08/20/2018, Litigation, Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Birth Parents

A mother in Mississippi had her parental rights terminated and the mother subsequently learned much later that there had been a fraud perpetrated on the court by a relative of hers to present false evidence and manipulate her, and that DHS had not presented the full information about her drug screens to the court.  Compounding the problem was the fact that while Mississippi parents have no categorical right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases, there is supposed to be a case-by-case determination as to whether a particular parent is entitled to counsel, and the trial court never made that determination so she went unrepresented.  The Mississippi Center for Justice, along with a local law firm, sought to vacate the termination on grounds of fraud and also raise the failure to appoint counsel.  The NCCRC assisted with the latter issue, helping to make the point that the mother did sufficiently request appointed counsel and that the trial court had an affirmative obligation to make that determination. 

 

Yesterday, after years of wrangling, the trial court found there was fraud on the part of the relative as well as DHR.  It also found that a) it had failed to do the necessary analysis of whether the mother was entitled to counsel; and b) had it done the analysis, it would have found she had been entitled to counsel.  Based on all the violations, the court vacated the TPR and it's unlikely the adoptive parents will attempt to re-file it, so now this becomes an ordinary custody dispute between the adoptive parents and the natural mother.

 

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The NCCRC assisted with the trial court briefing on the appointment of counsel question.