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In re S.R.R.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

September 13, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF S.R.R. AND S.R., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 222nd District Court Deaf Smith County, Texas Trial Court No. DR-2017K-169, Honorable Jack M. Graham, Presiding

          Before CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES T. CAMPBELL, JUSTICE

         This is an appeal from the trial court's order terminating the mother's parental rights to her children, S.R.R. and S.R.[1] Appointed appellate counsel for the mother has filed a brief pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 744 (1967). Finding no arguable grounds for appeal, we affirm the trial court's judgment.[2]

         Background

         According to information contained in the clerk's record filed in this case, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services became involved with the family when it received a report that the mother was selling her food stamps for drug money. The mother was allegedly abusing methamphetamine and alcohol. The father of the children also used methamphetamine and abused alcohol, including use of drugs in the presence of the children. S.R.R., three years old at the time of the final hearing, and S.R., then two, had little to eat, were dirty, and lacked clothing.

         Following unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable place for the mother and children to stay, the Department decided the children's best interest required their removal from the mother's care. The children were placed in a foster home where they remained at the time of the final hearing.

         The Department filed pleadings for protection of a child, for conservatorship, and for termination of the parents' rights. In its petition, the Department set forth eleven grounds on which it alleged the mother's rights to her children should be terminated.[3] The Department also alleged termination of the mother's parental rights would be in the best interest of the children.[4]

         The final hearing was held almost a year after the petition was filed. The mother had completed many of the services required by her service plan but was incarcerated during the pendency of the case and, according to a caseworker's testimony, would remain so "for the foreseeable future."[5] In September and October 2018, the mother sent three letters to the trial court expressing dissatisfaction with her appointed counsel and a desire to work toward reunification with her children.

         On the morning of the final hearing, the mother and the father signed affidavits voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.103 (West 2015) (setting forth requirements for affidavit of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights). The mother and her attorney were in court at the final hearing and announced ready. The Department supervisor for the case testified. She told the court she was present when each parent signed the affidavit and that neither had revoked them. She also said the children were doing "[b]eautifully" in placement and that they have "adjusted well. The placement is meeting all of their needs. There are no concerns at this point." Further, the foster parents had conveyed to the Department a desire to adopt the children. The supervisor expressed her opinion that neither parent was capable of meeting the needs of the children and that termination of their rights was in the children's best interest.

         The trial court bench-filed the affidavits and terminated the mother's rights on the basis of the affidavit pursuant to section 161.001(b)(1)(K) of the Family Code. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(K). It found also that termination was in the children's best interest pursuant to section 161.001(b)(2). Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(2). The court signed its judgment of termination on October 30, 2018.

         This court first became aware of the case in June 2019 when it received a letter from the mother seeking information about the status of her appeal. Having no appeal on file, we requested and received papers filed in the trial court post-judgment. Those included a letter the mother filed, dated November 22, 2018, which we found to be a sufficient attempt to invoke our appellate jurisdiction. We docketed the appeal, abated it, and asked the trial court to determine whether the mother desired to prosecute the appeal, whether she was indigent, whether new counsel should be appointed, and whether the mother was entitled to the clerk's and reporter's record without cost. After a hearing, the trial court entered findings of fact, finding among other things that the attorney then representing the mother should be released. Thereafter, on June 21, 2019, the trial court appointed new appellate counsel. Counsel subsequently filed the Anders brief now before us, addressing the ground on which the trial court terminated the mother's parental rights, section 161.001(b)(1)(K), and evidence of best interest.

         Analysis

         Pursuant to Anders, the brief states counsel has diligently reviewed the record and the applicable law and has concluded that, in his professional opinion, the record shows no arguably meritorious issue on which to base an appeal. See In re Schulman, 252 S.W.3d 403, 407 n.9 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008) (orig. proceeding); Stafford v. State,813 S.W.2d 503, 510 n.3 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991) (en banc); In re A.W.T.,61 S.W.3d 87, 88 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 2001, ...


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