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In re J.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

May 3, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.L.C., a Child

         From the 25th Judicial District Court, Guadalupe County, Texas Trial Court No. 15-1619-CV Honorable Thomas Nathaniel Stuckey, Associate Judge Presiding

          Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa Justice.

         AFFIRMED

         Julian[1] appeals the trial court's termination of his parental rights to J.L.C. He argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings of grounds for termination and that termination is in J.L.C.'s best interest. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         The Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition for conservatorship of J.L.C. and for termination of Julian's parental rights.[2] The Department alleged Julian constructively abandoned J.L.C., failed to complete his court-ordered family service plan, and knowingly engaged in criminal conduct resulting in a conviction, imprisonment, and an inability to care for J.L.C. for at least two years.[3] The Department also alleged termination of Julian's parental rights is in J.L.C.'s best interest. The trial court held a bench trial, at which J.L.C.'s mother Cynthia, caseworker Gina Martinez, and Julian testified.

         Cynthia testified J.L.C. was eight years old at the time of trial, and Julian was not present when J.L.C. was born, despite his knowing she was pregnant. Cynthia stated that when J.L.C. was one year old, Julian saw J.L.C. approximately three times and he has not since seen the child. She further stated that before the Department filed suit, J.L.C. did not know Julian's name, what he looked like, or that he was her father. She testified Julian never provided any money, diapers, food, or clothing to support J.L.C. Cynthia told another man he was the father, she did not tell Julian he was J.L.C.'s father, and she did not allow Julian to visit J.L.C. Cynthia also testified she did not want J.L.C. to have a relationship with Julian while he was in prison because it would not be in J.L.C.'s best interest.

         Caseworker Martinez testified Julian was incarcerated, and he did not complete his court-ordered counseling or psychological evaluation. However, Julian wrote to her explaining the required services were not available to him at his particular prison unit. Martinez testified J.L.C. considered another man to be her father. She further testified Julian had an extensive criminal background that included charges of burglary, injury to a child, and manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance. Although Martinez first testified Julian had a conviction for sexual assault of a child and would be required to register as a sex offender, she later testified Julian's criminal history did not include sexual assault.

         Julian testified that although he suspected J.L.C. was his daughter, he deferred to Cynthia's decision not to allow him to see J.L.C., and instead "wander[ed] off" onto "the streets." He testified that when he suspected J.L.C. was his daughter, he had no stable housing and he was "really living off the street." Julian stated he is currently serving sentences in state prison for two convictions from 2014: one for manufacturing and delivery of crack cocaine and the other for causing bodily injury to a child. Julian explained he did not manufacture or sell drugs, but he possessed crack cocaine for personal use. He also explained he had hit his newborn son, bruising his side. The trial court admitted the judgments of conviction from 2014 showing Julian's sentences included twenty years' confinement for the drug offense and ten years' confinement for causing bodily injury to a child. The judgments provide the sentences shall run concurrently, and Julian testified he is eligible for parole in 2019.

         Julian testified he had additional criminal history. He stated he twice spent time in juvenile detention for burglary of a habitation. He also stated he had been incarcerated for misdemeanor assault, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and violating a protective order, and he was also incarcerated in a federal penitentiary for several years. Julian testified his current incarceration "really ain't good for [J.L.C.'s] mind [and] her environment." He also testified that after the Department filed the underlying suit, he never wrote to J.L.C., but wrote to Cynthia twice and J.L.C.'s grandmother once to ask about J.LC. He explained he did not write more often because he was "going through lock down services" in prison.

         The trial court signed a final order terminating Julian's parental rights to J.L.C. The trial court found Julian constructively abandoned J.L.C., failed to comply with the court-ordered provisions of his family service plan, and knowingly engaged in criminal conduct resulting in a conviction and was imprisoned and unable to care for J.L.C. for at least two years. The trial court also found that termination of Julian's parental rights is in J.L.C.'s best interest. The trial court appointed the Department permanent managing conservator, J.L.C. was placed with her maternal great-grandparents, and Cynthia retained possessory conservatorship. Julian timely filed this appeal.

         Standard of Review

         A judgment terminating parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2016). To determine whether this heightened burden of proof was met, we employ a heightened standard of review to determine whether a "fact finder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the State's allegations." In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002). "This standard guards the constitutional interests implicated by termination, while retaining the deference an appellate court must have for the fact finder's role." In re O.N.H., 401 S.W.3d 681, 683 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2013, no pet.). We do ...


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