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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.M.

May 27, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FG-16-27-09.

Per curiam.



Submitted April 19, 2010

Before Judges Lisa, Alvarez and Coburn.

Defendant J.M. appeals the August 19, 2009 Family Part judgment terminating his parental rights to his son, S.G., pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15(c) and -15.1. S.G.'s mother, Sh.G., voluntarily surrendered her parental rights on June 19, 2009, to her mother, R.G., with whom the child has lived since September 18, 2008, when he was nine months old. R.G. wishes to adopt. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

J.M. was arrested on June 5, 2007, while on probation for a prior drug offense. After entering a guilty plea to third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1), on November 8, 2007, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. He has been continuously incarcerated since before S.G.'s birth.

S.G. was born on December 11, 2007; both mother and child tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Sh.G. has a history of addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, and unsuccessful involvement in substance abuse programs. Accordingly, S.G. was removed from his mother's custody. Sh.G. asked that plaintiff, the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division), place S.G. with R.G., who volunteered to serve as a resource and was already caring for Sh.G.'s older child from another relationship. S.G. was placed with a foster family, however, as another drug-dependent adult daughter of R.G. was then residing with her.

In addition to the problems suffered individually by S.G.'s parents, their relationship was tumultuous - Sh.G. actually stabbed J.M. in the chest in 2006, puncturing his lung. To date, J.M. has not seen the child, requested a visit, attempted to contact the child in any way, or contacted R.G. in order to inquire about the child's well-being, by phone or by mail.

At approximately three months, S.G. was diagnosed as suffering from developmental delays. At five months, he was diagnosed with mild plagiocephaly on the left side of his face and head, and was prescribed treatment and therapy including the use of a helmet in order to correct the condition.

On June 18, 2008, the Division arranged to have J.M. evaluated by a licensed psychologist, Charles S. Hasson, Ph.D., in order to assess his "psychological fitness to independently parent" S.G. J.M. told Hasson that he was first arrested at age fourteen for assaulting a police officer and was placed in a "program" for six months as a result. He was arrested again shortly thereafter, this time for selling crack cocaine, and was sentenced to ten months in a detention facility. When at age fifteen, J.M. was charged a second time with selling crack cocaine, he reported being sent to a "boot camp." Because of his disciplinary problems, J.M. never attended a traditional high school; the alternative school in which he was eventually enrolled suspended him for fighting. Rather than continuing in that program, defendant elected to serve time at Jamesburg Youth Facility, where he spent sixteen months. J.M. also told Hasson that during the drug-related incident for which he is presently serving four years, "someone got killed." J.M. admitted to selling drugs in the past and hinted that he had been involved with a gang.

J.M. also told Hasson that Sh.G. is unfit to be a parent because she is a "crack head" who cannot stay clean for any substantial period of time. For that reason, if he were granted custody of S.G., he would not want Sh.G. to have any contact with the child. J.M. denied being physically abusive towards Sh.G.

J.M. told Hasson that "being incarcerated has matured him and has made him a responsible person" and that after release, he planned to obtain employment and raise S.G. He does not want the child in daycare and would arrange for his family to watch the child while he worked. J.M. was optimistic about his employment prospects because he was studying for his G.E.D. exam and claimed he worked as an electrician's assistant for seven months. The only weakness J.M. acknowledged was that women were attracted to him and he fell in love easily.

When Hasson administered the MMPI-2, J.M.'s score was indicative of "clinically significant" psychopathic deviance. His psychological profile suggested that he was "immature, impulsive . . . a risk[-]taker" and was "oriented towards thrill seeking and self-gratification." J.M.'s traits were consistent with someone who exhibited "narcissistic and manipulative" tendencies and remained alienated from others while externalizing blame. Furthermore, J.M.'s testing was indicative of drug abuse, despite his denials of having either a drug or alcohol addiction. J.M. acknowledged that he often feels "sad and angry," and tends to "lash out and then feel sorry."

Hasson considered the psychological testing results to be inconsistent "with a person who will place the need[s] of [a] young child before his own." Hasson doubted that J.M. would be able to significantly change his lifestyle upon release and opined that before the child was turned over to J.M., he should be required to establish stable housing, a job and a realistic parenting plan. In Hasson's view, it was unlikely that J.M. would be able to accomplish these baseline goals given his past history and tendency to disregard counseling or even feedback. Although he stated that J.M. could be permitted to visit with his son, he cautioned the Division to move slowly before entrusting him with any childcare ...

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