Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Litigation, Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Birth Parents

In Zockert v. Fanning, 310 Or. 514 (1990), a case involving the state constitution's equal protection provision, petitioners attempted to adopt a minor on the basis of consent by the mother and abandonment by the father (and Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 109.324 waives the consent requirement for a natural parent where there is abandonment). The father appeared to contest the adoption and, after being denied several requests for an appointed counsel, lost his parental rights. In rejecting the father's requests for appointed counsel, the trial court noted that the case-at-hand was a civil proceeding as opposed to a criminal proceeding. The father's appeal relied on the argument that federal constitutional guarantees and Article I, § 20 of the Oregon Constitution required the Oregon courts to provide him with appointed counsel. His argument was that Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 419.525(2) (repealed 1993) provided counsel in parental termination proceedings in juvenile courts, and that denying appointment of counsel in a proceeding similar to those held under Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 419.525(2) resulted in unequal treatment.


The Oregon Supreme Court agreed and held he was entitled to appointed counsel, but remanded the case to the trial court based on other matters. In its holding, the court said expansively, "The pioneers who adopted the Oregon Constitution clearly had in mind that assistance of counsel was among the privileges of Oregon citizenry." It relied in part on the fact that the proceedings at issue could result in a "permanent loss of all parental rights". And it noted that "The state is involved similarly in both proceedings. A state agency, Children's Services Division, plays a significant role in adoptions under ORS 109.310(4) and 109.316, and also serves the juvenile court under chapter 419."  


In Hunt v. Weiss, 169 Or.App. 317, 322 (Ct. App. 2000), the court of appeals extended Zockert to involuntary adoptions attempting to bypass consent based on the incarceration or mental disability of the birth parent (as per Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 109.322).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no