On appeal from the Essex County Court, Probate Division.
Goldmann, Leonard and Fritz. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, P.J.A.D.
[114 NJSuper Page 586] Plaintiffs P brought a County Court (Probate Division) action seeking adoption of L, the infant girl born out of wedlock to N. The application was contested by N and the natural father, W, whom N had subsequently married. Following the taking of testimony the trial judge filed an opinion in which he concluded that the child's interests would best be served by returning her to her natural parents. Plaintiffs then moved for a new trial or for permission to introduce additional testimony and to reargue the issues. The motion was denied and judgment entered in favor of the natural parents, transfer of custody from plaintiffs
being stayed provided they promptly filed notice of appeal. They did so, challenging both the judgment and the denial of their motion.
The child was born March 28, 1969. The mother, then almost 22, freely and understandingly relinquished all parental rights four days later, specifically giving L into the custody of plaintiffs. Upon the filing of their complaint for adoption, dated April 18, 1969, the county judge entered an order making the baby a ward of the court, directing the Bureau of Children's Services to conduct an investigation and file a written report concerning the status of the natural parents as well as plaintiffs' fitness to adopt the child and provide her with a suitable home, and fixing July 8, 1969 as the date for a preliminary hearing in accordance with the statute, notice of the hearing to be served upon the mother personally.
On June 11, 1969, after the Connecticut Welfare Department had written N about the adoption (Connecticut was her home state), N wrote the following "To Whom It May Concern" letter:
My feelings about the adoption have changed. I would like to stop the proceedings. I have thought a lot about it for the last two months, and I want the baby back. The father and I plan to be married this year, and want our child with us.
The natural father, W, was married at the time of the conception and birth of the child. On July 4, 1969 he obtained a Mexican divorce from his wife, Frances. Two days later he married N in a civil ceremony, and on August 9, 1969 they exchanged church vows.
Meanwhile, the hearing originally scheduled for July 8 was postponed to December 4 and continued on December 12 and 22. The judge filed his opinion on February 13, and entered judgment on March 25, 1970.
Plaintiffs first argue that R. 1:21-2, providing for the pro hac vice admission of out-of-state attorneys, was violated in that a brief sent to the trial judge by the natural parents'
New York trial counsel was not signed by a New Jersey attorney. The brief (designated as "Final Argument and Summation") was filed by permission of the trial judge as a substitute for oral argument. That aside, the cited rule could be relaxed under R. 1:1-2. In any event, plaintiffs can show no prejudice. The argument is frivolous.
Equally so is plaintiffs' second contention that the proceedings were defective because the trial judge failed to order a pretrial hearing and enter a pretrial order, as required by R. 4:25-1. The point is raised as plain error, no objection to the alleged deficiency having been raised. As a matter of fact, counsel had on July 8, 1969, the date fixed for the preliminary hearing, discussed the issues involved at an unreported side-bar conference. Again, the rule in question may be relaxed, and there is no showing of prejudice. The point made is without merit.
Plaintiffs next argue that the trial judge's opinion fails to include findings of fact and conclusions of law, as required by R. 1:7-4. This contention is patently without substance, as a reading of the opinion readily shows.
Plaintiffs' first significant contention is that the trial judge erred in denying their motion for a new trial or for permission to introduce additional testimony and to reargue the issues. The argument made in opposition is that what plaintiffs sought to adduce would have added ...