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In re J.E.D.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

October 24, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.E.D., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 29th District Court Palo Pinto County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. C48299

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN M. BAILEY CHIEF JUSTICE

         Based upon a petition filed by the mother of J.E.D., the trial court terminated the parental rights of J.E.D.'s father and granted the mother's request to change the child's name. The father filed a pro se notice of appeal. We affirm.

         At the outset, we note that Appellant failed to adhere to the briefing standards required by the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1. Although Appellant's brief does not meet all of the requirements of Rule 38.1, we will construe the briefing rules liberally and attempt to address the issues raised in Appellant's brief. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.9. Based upon our review of Appellant's brief and his supplemental filings, we believe that Appellant has asserted the following issues: (1) a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, (2) a complaint that his rights were violated by the failure of the trial court to appoint an attorney to represent Appellant, (3) a complaint that the trial judge should not have presided over this civil matter, and (4) a request for this case to remain open for five years.

         Termination Findings and Standards

         The termination of parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2018). To terminate parental rights, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has committed one of the acts listed in Section 161.001(b)(1)(A)-(U) and that termination is in the best interest of the child. Id.

         In this case, the trial court found that Appellant had committed three of the acts listed in Section 161.001(b)(1)-those found in subsections (E), (L), and (Q). Specifically, the trial court found that Appellant had engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct that endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being, that Appellant had been convicted or placed on community supervision for being criminally responsible for the death or serious injury of a child, and that Appellant had knowingly engaged in criminal conduct that resulted in his conviction and confinement and inability to care for the child for not less than two years from the date that the petition was filed. See id. § 161.001(b)(1)(E), (L), (Q). The trial court also found, pursuant to Section 161.001(b)(2), that termination of Appellant's parental rights would be in the best interest of the child. See id. § 161.001(b)(2).

         To determine if the evidence is legally sufficient in a parental termination case, we review all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding and determine whether a rational trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true. In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005). To determine if the evidence is factually sufficient in a parental termination case, we give due deference to the finding and determine whether, on the entire record, a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the allegations against the parent. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25-26 (Tex. 2002). We note that the trier of fact is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses at trial and that we are not at liberty to disturb the determinations of the trier of fact as long as those determinations are not unreasonable. J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573.

         With respect to the best interest of a child, no unique set of factors need be proved. In re C.J.O., 325 S.W.3d 261, 266 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2010, pet. denied). But courts may use the non-exhaustive Holley factors to shape their analysis. Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). These include, but are not limited to, (1) the desires of the child, (2) the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future, (3) the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future, (4) the parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody, (5) the programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child, (6) the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody, (7) the stability of the home or proposed placement, (8) the acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one, and (9) any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent. Id. Additionally, evidence that proves one or more statutory grounds for termination may also constitute evidence illustrating that termination is in the child's best interest. C.J.O., 325 S.W.3d at 266.

         Evidence and Analysis

         With respect to Appellant's contention that there is no evidence to support the trial court's findings, we begin with evidence related to Appellant's conviction for injury to a child. To support a finding under subsection (Q), the record must show that the parent will be incarcerated or confined and unable to care for the child for at least two years from the date the petition for termination was filed. Id. § 161.001(b)(1)(Q); In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 110 (Tex. 2006). The petition to terminate Appellant's parental rights was filed on May 14, 2018. Thus, the two-year period required by subsection (Q) would end in May 2020. At the final hearing on termination, the trial court admitted into evidence, as Exhibit No. 1, a certified copy of a judgment of conviction. The exhibit reflects that Appellant entered an open plea and was convicted of the offense of "INJURY CHILD/ ELDERLY/DISABLE W/INT BODILY INJ." The judgment also indicates that Appellant was sentenced on April 16, 2014, to a term of confinement for eight years. Appellant's projected release date is September 23, 2021, a date that is well after the two-year period required by subsection (Q).

         Furthermore, the testimony from the final hearing in this cause reflects that the above judgment of conviction stemmed from charges in which Appellant injured J.E.D. J.E.D.'s mother testified that Appellant hurt J.E.D. when J.E.D. was almost four years old. According to the mother, Appellant "picked [J.E.D.] up by his penis," which resulted in a "cut" at the top part of J.E.D.'s penis from Appellant's thumbnail and a "very bad cut on . . . the base of the penis." After Head Start contacted CPS, law enforcement investigated and charged Appellant with injury to a child. Appellant admitted that he had hurt J.E.D. and pleaded guilty to the charge. Appellant remained incarcerated for that offense and appeared via telephone at the final hearing on termination.

         The record also reflects that Appellant's actions caused emotional trauma to J.E.D., that J.E.D. still has nightmares and depression, that J.E.D. is scared of Appellant, and that J.E.D. says he "hates" ...


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