On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, FG-04-60-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 23, 2007
Before Judges Skillman and Le Winn.
Defendant, the natural father of A.M.R., born November 18, 2005, appeals from the February 5, 2007, order of the Family Part terminating his parental rights to that child. The parental rights of A.M.R.'s natural mother, M.A.R., had previously been terminated by default following a proof hearing on November 27, 2006.
The sole point raised on appeal is:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN RULING THAT DEFENDANT'S PARENTAL RIGHTS SHOULD BE TERMINATED AS THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE, BY THE REQUIRED CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE, THAT TERMINATION OF THE PARENTAL RIGHTS WAS APPROPRIATE
Having thoroughly reviewed the trial record and defendant's appellate arguments, we are convinced the trial court's decision is soundly based on clear and convincing evidence of record and should not be disturbed on appeal.
Trial of this matter commenced on January 24, 2007, at which time defendant was incarcerated and appeared in court pursuant to writ; his counsel requested an adjournment based on defendant's representation that he was about to be released from custody and would prefer to appear for trial following release. Counsel stated on the record defendant's decision not to obtain his own expert witness as well as his agreement to submit into evidence the report of the State's proffered expert, Dr. Gruen, and to waive cross-examination of that expert. Defendant also stated, through counsel, his intention to waive his appearance at the adjourned trial date if he remained incarcerated as of that date. The trial judge questioned defendant directly both as to the expert witness issue as well as his proffered appearance waiver.
Thereafter, trial was re-scheduled for February 5, 2007, at which time defendant appeared and, following the State's case, declined to testify or offer any evidence on his behalf. Again, defendant was questioned closely, both by his counsel and by the trial judge, as to the voluntariness of this decision.
Dr. Gruen's report, dated November 30, 2006, consisted of his evaluation of defendant. The report notes defendant's "lengthy criminal record involving possession and sale of drugs and thefts." The results of his psychological testing "reveal[ed] promises of reform but a history of recidivism. [Defendant] is impressed with himself; he does not want to lose face by signing a designated surrender." Dr. Gruen's expert conclusions were as follows:
[A.M.R.]'s life cannot be put on hold waiting and watching to see if her birth father can stay away from drugs, renounce his criminal lifestyle, get a stable job, and take care of his child. Results of this Psychological Evaluation suggest that the achievement of these goals is unlikely.
[Defendant] has never met [A.M.R.] and has never taken care of his children to the best of my knowledge. He has no psychological bonding with [A.M.R.]. He has been in prison throughout her life. I recommend termination ...