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In re J.J.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

September 13, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.J.T., a Child

         From the 408th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-01554 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Karen Angelini, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SANDEE BRYAN MARION, CHIEF JUSTICE

         Z.T., the father of J.J.T., appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights.[1] Z.T. contends the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination of his parental rights was in J.J.T's best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         J.J.T. was born on October 11, 2015. Both J.J.T. and his mother, A.H., tested positive for methamphetamine at birth. The case was referred to family based safety services, and J.J.T. was placed in Z.T.'s care. Z.T. was instructed that A.H. was not allowed unsupervised contact with J.J.T. Despite these instructions, Z.T. allowed A.H. to have unsupervised contact, and J.J.T was removed from Z.T.'s care on July 11, 2016, when A.H. was found passed out at a bus stop and J.J.T. had rolled from A.H.'s lap into the street. On July 19, 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition to terminate Z.T.'s parental rights. A bench trial was held on April 25, 2017. Z.T. was not present at the trial, and his attorney stated he had not had "any substantive contact with [Z.T.] over the last couple of months."[2]

         Amanda LaHue was the Department's caseworker on the case since October of 2016. LaHue testified Z.T. participated in a psychiatric evaluation in December of 2016 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Z.T. refused to take any medication for his mental illness and told LaHue he does not need medication despite acknowledging that he hears voices and sees thing when he tries to sleep. Z.T. also told LaHue: (1) he "gets guns from the Cartel and sells them;" (2) someone sent him a Cadillac from overseas that he gave to a homeless women; (3) he currently has four women pregnant; and (4) he has six children. Z.T. stated the mothers of the six children do not allow him to see them, and he was unable to tell LaHue how old the children were. LaHue testified Z.T. is not employed, had not been employed in a long time, and does not have housing. Z.T. told LaHue he does not need a job or housing because his friends allow him to stay with them and give him money. Z.T. would not, however, identify the friends. With regard to Z.T.'s service plan, LaHue testified he was unsuccessfully discharged from counseling because his refusal to take medication made the counselor unable to work with him.

         LaHue testified J.J.T. has special needs, including a significant speech delay. Since being placed in his current foster home in December of 2016, LaHue stated J.J.T. had made a lot of progress. J.J.T. receives speech therapy twice a week and has progressed to saying his first word. Although J.J.T. had difficulty bonding in other placements, he is bonded with his foster family and is happy. J.J.T.'s current placement is a foster-to-adopt home.

         On cross-examination, LaHue testified Z.T. had visited with J.J.T. "off and on," but Z.T. had not seen J.J.T. since February 20, 2017. Although Z.T. would care for J.J.T. during his visits, he mainly held him while talking to LaHue about topics unrelated to J.J.T. or the case. LaHue stated Z.T.'s psychological issues likely prevented him from actively participating in his services.

         J.J.T.'s foster mother, E.G., is a registered nurse who works in a neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital. She and her family have worked hard to bond with J.J.T. E.G. has J.J.T under the care of a developmental pediatrician who is closely following his progress. E.G. testified J.J.T. had made significant progress in bonding with the family in the last four to six weeks. E.G. and her family are committed to adopting J.J.T.

         Regina Lenoir-George, the Department's removing worker supervisor, testified when J.J.T. was placed in Z.T.'s care, Z.T. was instructed A.H. could not have any contact with J.J.T. When Z.T. was contacted about J.J.T being found in the street with A.H. passed out, Z.T. acknowledged J.J.T. was not supposed to be with A.H. but stated he believed he could determine if A.H. was using drugs. Lenoir-George testified Z.T. had a criminal history that included a 2006 conviction for assault causing bodily harm and a 2010 conviction for driving while intoxicated.

         At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court terminated Z.T.'s parental rights, and Z.T. appeals.

         Standard of Review

         To terminate parental rights pursuant to section 161.001 of the Code, the Department has the burden to prove: (1) one of the predicate grounds in subsection 161.001(b)(1); and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West Supp. 2016); In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003). The applicable burden of proof is the clear and convincing standard. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.206(a) (West 2014); In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002). "'Clear and convincing evidence' means the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the ...


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