On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
In this appeal, which involves the privately initiated adoption of a minor over the objection of an indigent natural parent, the Court determines who should bear the cost of providing a transcript to enable the indigent parent to pursue her right to appellate review.
Over her objection, and after a hearing, the trial court entered an order terminating the parental rights of M.J., the indigent natural parent of A.N.J., and entered a judgment of adoption in favor of the plaintiffs, the child's parental grandparents. Because M.J. objected to the proposed adoption and because her parental rights had not before been terminated by any State-initiated action, a hearing pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:3-46 was required. Camden Regional Legal Services represented M.J. at the hearing.
M.J. appealed the trial court's ruling and applied for a transcript to be provided at public expense based on indigence. The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) contested any responsibility for providing a free transcript of a proceeding in which it had not participated. The Appellate Division had entered an order directing the OPD to pay for the transcript because the case involved "in effect, a termination order." On reconsideration, the Appellate Division reconfirmed its order, noting the congruency of the findings required to be made by the trial court with the termination findings required pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6.
The Supreme Court granted the OPD's motion for leave to appeal.
HELD: In those instances when it is not appropriate to shift the cost of a transcript on appeal to a plaintiff in an involuntary private adoption action, the Office of the Public Defender's duty to an indigent person confronted with the loss of parental rights by operation of N.J.S.A. 9:3-46 shall include the duty to pay for a transcript on appeal even when that office has not participated in the involuntary adoption proceeding.
1. Since 1976, the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized that an indigent parent appealing the termination of parental rights has a right to have trial transcripts provided at public expense when necessary for purposes of appeal. But that right is not automatic and is subject to various mechanisms to reduce the public expenditure. (pp. 3-5)
2. There is no basis to distinguish OPD's responsibility in this setting where a private party, by virtue of State legislative authorization, initiated the severing of parental rights for reasons congruent to the type of findings required in a Title 9 termination action in which the OPD is responsible for representation and (even when a public interest law firm undertakes that representation) for the ancillary expenses necessary to that representation. (pp. 5-6)
3. In those instances in which it is not appropriate to shift the cost of a transcript on appeal to a plaintiff in an involuntary private adoption action, the OPD's duty to an indigent parent confronted with the loss of parental rights by operation of N.J.S.A. 9:3-46 shall include the duty to pay for a transcript on appeal. Courts, however, are encouraged to restrict the required portions of a transcript to the minimum necessary for appellate review, thereby minimizing public expense. (pp. 6-7)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam
Judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES COLEMAN, LONG, VERNIERO, LaVECCHIA, and ZAZZALI join in this opinion. ...