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In re M.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

September 11, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.M., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 304th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. JC-17-01300-W

          Before Justices Whitehill, Molberg, and Reichek

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL WHITEHILL, JUSTICE

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed this suit to terminate Father's parental rights as to M.M., his minor child. The trial court granted that relief after a jury trial.

         Father appeals and raises six issues. We overrule them for the following reasons: (i) the trial court didn't violate the Family Code § 263.401 deadlines; (ii) Father hasn't shown that he received ineffective assistance of counsel; (iii) Father lacks standing to complain that an intervenor wasn't allowed to supplement her petition during trial; (iv) Father hasn't shown error or harm in the trial court's ruling admitting Father's murder conviction into evidence; and (v-vi) Father didn't preserve his evidentiary sufficiency challenges to certain jury findings. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         We draw these facts from the trial evidence.

         Mother and Father were in a long-term relationship and began living together shortly before their daughter M.M. was born in March 2011. At that time Mother also had possession of two other children who were hers but not Father's.

         In early November 2015, Father's mother (Grandmother) came to the United States from Greece, where she lived, for a visit. Mother and Father were planning to get married later that month.

         On Friday, November 13, 2015, Father left for work and took Grandmother with him. Mother took the three children to school and returned home. She went into the kitchen, where someone shot and killed her. The police eventually concluded that Father had arranged for two people to go to his home and murder Mother. The suspected motive was that Father and Mother's relationship was troubled and Father didn't want to pay child support or lose any property when they separated.

         B. Procedural History

         On November 16, 2015, Child Protective Services received a referral that one of M.M.'s older siblings had been sexually abused by his father (not the appellant in this case). During the CPS investigation, M.M. was temporarily placed with the Graces, who were a family that Mother and Father knew.

         In February 2016, the Department filed a petition seeking temporary conservatorship of M.M.

         In June 2016, Father was arrested for Mother's murder.

         On December 22, 2017, the parties in the conservatorship case signed a Rule 11 agreement in which they agreed to nonsuit their various claims in the case. That same day, the trial court signed an agreed order granting the nonsuits, and the Department filed a new original petition commencing the instant suit for conservatorship of M.M. and termination of Father's parental rights.

         The Graces filed an intervention petition asking the court to appoint them as M.M.'s joint managing conservators. Grandmother also filed an intervention petition asking the court to appoint her sole managing conservator.

         In September 2018, Father was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. We take judicial notice that he has appealed his conviction and his appeal is currently pending before this Court as No. 05-18-01200-CR.

         In November 2018, the trial judge signed an order extending its jurisdiction in the instant case until July 5, 2019.

         The case was tried before a jury in February 2019. The jury found by clear and convincing evidence that several predicate facts for termination were true and that terminating Father's parental rights was in M.M.'s best interest. The jury also found that the Department should be appointed M.M.'s managing conservator. The trial judge signed a judgment terminating Father's parental rights and appointing the Department as M.M.'s permanent managing conservator.

         Father timely appealed.

         II. Issues

         We summarize Father's six issues as follows:

1. This lawsuit violated the strict time mandates of Family Code ...

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