Supreme Court of Ohio recognizes right to counsel in adoption cases
While a state may have many statutes, court decisions, or court rules governing appointment of counsel for a particular subject area, a "Key Development" is a statute/decision/rule that prevails over the others (example: a state high court decision finding a categorical right to counsel in guardianships cases takes precedence over a statute saying appointment in guardianship cases is discretionary).
12/22/2020, Litigation, Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Birth Parents
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in a 5-2 decision (with one of the 5 concurring in the judgment only) that indigent parents have a right to counsel in involuntary adoption cases under the Equal Protection Clauses of the federal and state constitutions. The case is In re Y.E.F., 2020 Ohio LEXIS 2819 (Ohio 2020).
Before ruling on the right to counsel, the Court held that the matter was subject to interlocutory appeal (in the case, the parent appealed the denial of counsel before the case was over). In Ohio, it is appealable in that way if the order “affects a substantial right in a special proceeding”, and the Court held that adoptions are a special proceeding and the right to counsel involves a substantial right (especially given the parent’s total inability to litigate without counsel), plus the parental rights underlying the right to counsel are fundamental. It also noted that prior cases involving denial of permission to use out-of-state counsel or disqualifying counsel had been held to be immediately appealable.
The Court then turned to the merits. Noting that the Court of Appeals had held that private adoptions do not involve state action, it held that the state’s decision to provide counsel for termination cases but not adoptions was itself a state action. It also cited to the SCOTUS decision in M.L.B. v. S.L.J., which held in a footnote that adoptions involve state action because only the state can authorize them. The Court then addressed the Court of Appeals’ contention that termination of parental rights proceedings are somehow different from adoption proceedings such that the parents in each situation are not similarly situated, responding that parents in both situations face permanent severance of their parental rights. The Court then concluded that the state had offered no compelling justification to treat the parents differently, rejecting the AG’s argument that rational basis analysis should apply as well as the argument about “responsible management of taxpayer funds”. The Court added that ensuring an accurate decision furthered the state’s interest because it ensures the best interests of the child are met.
If "yes", the established right to counsel or discretionary appointment of counsel is limited in some way, including any of: the only authority is a lower/intermediate court decision or a city council, not a high court or state legislature; there has been a subsequent case that has cast doubt; a statute is ambiguous; or the right or discretionary appointment is not for all types of individuals or proceedings within that category.
Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no
The NCCRC assisted with the strategic planning and briefing.