October 3, 2013
NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
K.R., Defendant-Appellant IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF H.K.R., minor
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 17, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FG-04-161-12.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Marc D. Pereira, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Jennifer Lochel, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor H.K.R. (David Valentin, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher, Espinosa and Koblitz.
K.R. appeals from the December 12, 2012 order terminating her parental rights to her fifth child, who suffered through drug withdrawal after birth. Her oldest child is in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division or DCPP), the next two oldest are in the Kinship Legal Guardianship of others, and an April 12, 2010 guardianship judgment was entered against appellant with regard to her fourth child. Based on the thorough oral opinion of Judge Linda G. Baxter, we affirm.
Neither biological parent attended the guardianship trial. Proof was presented to the court that appellant was herself abandoned by her parents at the age of fifteen. She has suffered from unremediated mental illness and drug dependency for at least the past twelve years, her entire adult life. Judge Baxter delineated in detail some of the instances in which K.R. put her children at risk over this time period. K.R. was also convicted in 2010 of third-degree terroristic threats for threatening to burn down the home of her sister, who at the time was the foster parent for one of K.R.'s older children. The Division presented expert evidence through Dr. Ronald S. Gruen that the child is securely bonded to her foster parents, but is not bonded with K.R., who only exercised visitation sporadically.
On appeal, K.R. raises the following issues:
POINT I: THE DIVISION FAILED TO ESTABLISH BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THE FOUR STATUTORY CRITERIA ENUMERATED IN THE "BEST INTERESTS" TEST FOR TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS.
A. THE DIVISION FAILED TO ESTABLISH BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT K.R. HAS EVER ENDANGERED, OR WILL ENDANGER, H.K.R.'S SAFETY, HEALTH OR DEVELOPMENT AND THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED ERROR BY ALLOWING DOCUMENTS FROM PREVIOUS LITIGATION INTO EVIDENCE.
B. THE DIVISION FAILED TO ESTABLISH BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT K.R. IS UNWILLING OR UNABLE TO ELIMINATE THE HARM FACING HER DAUGHTER BECAUSE NO HARM WAS EVER PROVEN UNDER THE FIRST PRONG AND K.R. HAD MADE GREAT STRIDES IN AMELIORATING HER HEALTH.
C. THE DIVISION FAILED TO ESTABLISH BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT IT MADE REASONABLE EFFORTS TO PROVIDE MEANINGFUL SERVICES TO K.R. THAT WOULD ALLOW HER TO CORRECT THE CIRCUMSTANCES WICH LED TO HER DAUGHTER'S PLACEMENT WITH DCPP.
D. THE DIVISION FAILED TO ESTABLISH BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT THE TERMINATION OF K.R.'S PARENTAL RIGHTS WILL NOT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT RELIED ENTIRELY ON THE SPECULATIONS OF DCPP'S EXPERT WITNESS DR. GRUEN.
Judge Baxter found that the Division had proven by clear and convincing evidence all four statutory requirements for termination of parental rights, N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(1-4). We agree and affirm based on Judge Baxter's thoughtful and comprehensive opinion.