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Division of Youth and Family Services v. M.O.

April 21, 2008

DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
M.O., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF W.O., J.O., D.O. AND E.O., MINORS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FN-15-45-03.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 5, 2008

Before Judges Winkelstein and LeWinn.

M.O. (defendant) is the natural mother of four children who were the subjects of abuse and neglect proceedings instituted by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) in December 2002, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.18, and terminated by an order entered in the Family Part in October 2006. Defendant appeals, raising the following issues:

POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY FINDING THAT DEFENDANT ABUSED AND NEGLECTED THE MINORS.

POINT II: DEFENDANT WAS DENIED HER DUE PROCESS RIGHTS IN HEARINGS SUBSEQUENT TO THE ABUSE AND NEGLECT HEARING BECAUSE OF THE FAILURE OF THE COURT TO ENFORCE ITS ORDERS RESULTING IN THE FAILURE OF DYFS TO EXERCISE REASONABLE EFFORTS TO PROVIDE COURT-MANDATED SERVICES AND THESE ERRORS LED THE COURT TO IMPROPERLY DISMISS THE CASE.

Defendant's first argument is addressed to the March 25, 2004 decision of the Family Part resulting in the April 30, 2004 order that (1) found defendant had physically abused two of the children, and (2) considered that physical conduct as evidence of abuse of the other two children pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.46(a)(1). Her second argument addresses the order terminating litigation entered by a different Family Part judge on October 31, 2006.

Having thoroughly reviewed the extensive record, we conclude that defendant's arguments are without merit. The trial judge's decision supporting the order of April 30, 2004, was soundly based on clear and convincing evidence of record. The termination order of October 31, 2006, likewise was based upon thorough and comprehensive fact-finding and analysis by another trial judge. We add the following comments.

M.O. is the natural mother of four children: W.O., Jr., born July 11, 1991; J.O., born February 11, 1993; D.O., born January 25, 1994; and E.O., born December 20, 1998. M.O. and W.O., the children's natural father, separated in 1999 and were divorced on October 23, 2004. The children have been in the custody of W.O. since November 2002.

On December 11, 2002, DYFS filed a complaint against defendant alleging abuse and neglect of all four children. Between December 17, 2003 and February 4, 2004, the judge held a six-day fact-finding hearing, at which he heard testimony from defendant, the two elder children and other fact witnesses, as well as expert medical witnesses.

The eldest child, W.O., Jr., described acts of physical abuse against him by defendant, including: punching his nose and causing it to bleed; dragging him down part of a flight of stairs by pulling his legs while he lay on his stomach, then standing aside causing him to fall down the rest of the stairs while doing nothing to stop his fall; and sitting on him while hitting his legs with a large cooking spoon. W.O., Jr. had photographs of his bruises that were put into evidence.

W.O., Jr. also described the physical abuse he witnessed defendant inflict upon E.O., including: slamming a door in E.O.'s face causing bruising to her face; and hitting the child repeatedly with a book on two occasions, once when she would not go to bed ...


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