March 29, 2007
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
E.S.S., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND J.A.S., DEFENDANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF A.J.S. AND E.J.S., MINORS.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, FG-12-91-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 19, 2007
Before Judges S.L. Reisner and Seltzer.
Defendant, E.S.S., appeals from an order of the Family Part terminating her parental rights to her children A.J.S. and E.J.S. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Longhi's cogent oral opinion placed on the record on June 28, 2006.
There is no dispute as to the most pertinent facts. Defendant has a long history of drug abuse and is currently incarcerated in Virginia. A.J.S. was born on September 21, 2003. E.J.S. was born on January 19, 2005. E.S.S. ingested cocaine on the day she gave birth to A.J.S. E.J.S. was born with cocaine in his system. Both children have been in foster care since birth. They have both bonded with their foster parents. They have not bonded with defendant. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) offered defendant a range of social services but she did not cooperate with their efforts. At the guardianship trial, the State presented unrebutted expert testimony that defendant is currently incapable of parenting her children.
In a detailed oral opinion, Judge Longhi found that DYFS had proven by clear and convincing evidence that termination of parental rights was in the children's best interests, applying the correct legal standard. In re K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 346-49 (1999); N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1.
On this appeal, defendant raises the following contentions:
POINT I: THE DIVISION'S REQUIREMENT THAT THE DEFENDANT AND J.S. SEPARATE FROM EACH OTHER IN ORDER FOR REUNIFICATION TO OCCUR WAS UNRELATED TO ANY OF ITS LEGITIMATE PARENS PATRIAE RESPONSIBILITIES UNDER N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(A) AND DENIED THE DEFENDANT EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW UNDER THE FEDERAL AND STATE CONSTITUTIONS.
POINT II: THE DEFENDANT'S PHYSICAL ABSENCE FROM THE COURTROOM, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE LIMITED TELEPHONIC ACCESS PROVIDED TO HER, DEPRIVED THE TRIAL OF THE NECESSARY ATTRIBUTES OF A FAIRLY CONDUCTED TITLE 30 ADJUDICATIVE PROCEEDING.
POINT III: THE JUDGMENT OF GUARDIANSHIP SHOULD BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT'S FINDINGS WITH REGARD TO THE THIRD AND FOURTH PRONGS OF THE "BEST INTERESTS" TEST WERE CONCLUSIONARY AND WITHOUT ADEQUATE FACTUAL FOUNDATION.
Our review of the trial court's decision is limited to determining whether it is "supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence." Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998). Further, "[b]ecause of the family courts' special jurisdiction and expertise in family matters, appellate courts should accord deference to family court factfinding." Id. at 413. Having reviewed the record using that standard, we conclude that the trial judge's determinations are amply supported by the record, and defendant's arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Defendant consented to testify by telephone and even if she had not, her presence in the courtroom could not possibly have affected the outcome of this case.
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