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In re I.G.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

June 21, 2018


          On appeal from the 36th District Court of San Patricio County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Hinojosa.



         The trial court terminated the parental rights of Mother and Father to their sons I.G. Jr. and O.I.G.[1] Only Father appeals. By three issues, Father asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support the termination and that he was deprived of his right to counsel. We reverse and render.

         I. Background

         On February 8, 2017, a petition to terminate Mother and Father's parental rights was filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department). A one-day bench trial was held on February 14, 2018.

         At the time of trial, Mother and Father had been separated for at least three years. Their sons were eight and ten years old, respectively, and they had lived with Father. However, when state authorities began investigating Father's conduct as a parent, he voluntarily placed the boys with his own mother and her husband (the Grandparents).

         Cassandra Teran testified about her work as an investigator for Child Protective Services (CPS). Teran explained that CPS began investigating Father shortly after state agencies received a report that Father was using crystal methamphetamine, that his home was dirty and filled with trash, and that he was verbally abusing his children and his significant other. Later, CPS learned of allegations that Father had physically abused Mother.

         Teran's interview with the boys revealed only that the children loved Father and wished to remain with him, and they had never seen him abuse Mother. However, Teran testified that when she confronted Father, he confessed to using methamphetamine.

         Teran testified that, during the pendency of the investigation, Father was arrested for running over his significant other with a vehicle. Father eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and he was sentenced to eight years' confinement. Teran testified that the Department filed its petition to terminate Mother and Father's parental rights after the arrest. At a hearing on the Department's petition, Father agreed with the Grandparents and the Department that the Grandparents should be named temporary managing conservators of the boys.

         Teran and Jenna Edgehill, a conservatorship worker with the Department, also testified about their investigation of Mother and Father's relationship. According to Teran, Mother explained that she had ceded custody to Father because she believed him to be a better caretaker. However, according to Edgehill, Mother explained that she relinquished custody of the children to Father only because Father threatened to kill her if she did not do so. Mother reported that Father had abused her for roughly ten years, leading to multiple arrests for domestic abuse, but no convictions. Edgehill explained that she believed Mother's accusations, even though Mother had a history of drug abuse and giving false reports. Ultimately, Edgehill recommended the termination of Father's parental rights.

         According to Edgehill and Teran, the Department's plan for the children was to place them with the Grandparents, who would eventually adopt them after Father's rights were terminated. Edgehill agreed that the Grandparents were honest people who would protect the boys and provide them with a good home, and both Edgehill and Teran agreed that it was in the children's best interest to live with the Grandparents.

         For his part, Father wished to retain his parental rights and have the Grandparents named managing conservators during his prison sentence. Father denied abusing Mother, denied that the woman he ran over was his significant other, and testified that running her over was an accident. Father agreed that he had made mistakes, but testified that he believed he could be rehabilitated and paroled from prison as a better man in four years' time. He believed that despite his mistakes, he had raised the boys well and wanted to remain their father. He described Grandmother as an excellent caretaker.

         Finally, the trial court heard the testimony of Grandmother. Grandmother testified that prior to CPS's involvement, the boys were happy and healthy, and Father brought the boys to her house almost every day. While Father worked, Grandmother would help them with homework, and Father would pick them up later and put them to bed. Grandmother testified that she wished for Father to retain his parental rights, and she believed it to be in the boys' best interest to remain under her care for the foreseeable future.

         At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court ordered the termination of Father's parental rights. The trial court found that termination was warranted because (1) Father would be imprisoned and unable to care for the children for two years or more and (2) termination was in the boys' best interest. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(Q), (b)(2) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). The trial court further found that the appointment of a parent as managing conservator would not be in the best interest of the children because the appointment would significantly impair the children's physical health or emotional development. See id. ยง 153.131(a) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). Instead, the trial court appointed the ...

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