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In re N.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

May 9, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF N.M. AND K.M., CHILDREN

         On Appeal from the 140th District Court Lubbock County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014-513, 365, Honorable Jim Bob Darnell, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Brian Quinn Chief Justice

         L.M. and G.G. appeal the order terminating their parental rights to N.M. and K.M. Initially, their appellate counsel filed an Anders[1] brief; however, this court identified a potential arguable issue and abated the matter back to the trial court for appointment of counsel and briefing. Appellant's counsel has filed an appellate brief wherein a single issue has been raised. That issue concerns the district court's error in failing to make additional findings on the record regarding the parents' termination and thereby denying them de novo review. We affirm.

         Both L.M. and G.G. timely requested a de novo hearing of the associate judge's finding that termination was proper. In their request, the parents questioned whether the evidence was factually and legally sufficient to terminate their parental rights pursuant to Texas Family Code § 161.001. The trial court set the matter for a hearing and the following occurred at that hearing:

MS. RATLIFF [the Department's counsel]: And on behalf of the Department also present is the caseworker, Janet Orta, and CASA is also present.
MR. WATSON [L.M. and G.G.'s counsel]: Cardine Watson here on behalf of [L.M. and G.G.], the parents.
THE COURT: The Court had requested that the court reporters prepare the record that was heard by Judge Hart. Mr. Watson indicated to the Court after the Court had reviewed that that he didn't think there would be any additional evidence offered as far as a de novo. So, is there any additional evidence or testimony that anybody feels the Court needs to be aware of?
MR. WATSON: Judge, that is still my position. In reference to my clients, contact with my clients has been sporadic. I spoke with [G.G.] probably about two or three weeks ago, and she was supposed to get ahold of me, schedule a time to come in and meet with me to discuss the de novo and her second case, which I believe is going to be under this cause, and she never called me back to schedule that appointment to come in and speak with me. And all the numbers that I had for them, they're no longer working. And so I believe September 1st they didn't show up. We had a permanency hearing on Monday the 7th. Even though they weren't required to be there, they had notice of the de novo, so I would have assumed they would have -- wanted to be there. They were not there and they're not here today. So, I wouldn't have a witness to call today to put on any additional evidence, Judge.
MS. RATLIFF: The Department would not have any additional evidence to present today. I would also add that the caseworker has had very minimal contact with the parents since September 1st, and any additional evidence from September 1st forward would only substantiate the prior -- the findings of Judge Hart in this case.
THE COURT: Based on the Court's review of the prior testimony, the Court will deny the de novo appeal at this time. And we'll be adjourned.

         Thereafter, a proposed order terminating the parental rights of L.M. and G.G. was given the trial court. Whether it was this proposed order or one of the trial court's own making, an order terminating the parental rights of both L.M. and G.G was executed by the district court on November 9, 2016. Included within the decree were findings specifying the statutory grounds found by the court as warranting termination and a finding that termination was in the children's best interests. The parents then appealed.

         Issue, Law and Analysis

         L.M. and G.G. contend that the trial court "erred in summarily denying the de novo hearing request because there was no new evidence. The referring court did not use [the appropriate] ...


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