NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Plaintiff-Respondent,
W.M., Defendant-Appellant, and A.L., Defendant-Respondent. IN THE MATTER OF R.M., a minor.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 3, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Sussex County, Docket No. FN-19-26-11.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant W.M. (Larry Leung, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for respondent A.L. (John A. Salois, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law Guardian, attorney for minor R.M. (Caitlin A. McLaughlin, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Before Judges Messano and Sabatino.
Appellant W.M. is the father of a young girl, R.M., who was born in March 2010 while appellant was in jail. Appellant and the child's mother, A.L., each have a history of drug abuse.
While appellant was incarcerated, the Division of Youth and Family Services (the "Division") had removed the daughter from the mother's care on three separate occasions because of the mother's substance abuse. Consequently, the Division brought the present case in the Family Part under Docket Number FN-19-26-11. The Division alleged abuse and neglect by the child's mother, but apparently made no such allegations against appellant.
Fortunately, the mother made good progress in her drug treatment, prompting the Division in July 2012 to move before the Family Part to dismiss the FN litigation. In the meantime, the mother moved in a separate non-dissolution case (Docket No. FD-19-325-10) for sole physical and legal custody of R.M. The mother contended that appellant, who was still in jail, was not capable of caring for R.M. and, moreover, had not seen his daughter since November 2010.
In response, appellant sought to preserve his custodial rights, asserting that he was then scheduled to be released from prison soon in August 2012, that he expected to live with his grandmother upon release, and that he hoped to reunify with his daughter.
The parents and their respective public defenders in the FN case appeared before the Family Part judge on the return date, July 23, 2012, along with the Deputy Attorney General representing the Division. Because appellant was still incarcerated, he appeared by phone. At the outset of the hearing, appellant's public defender stated that he did not and could not represent appellant on the FD case. The judge accepted that limitation, but then asked counsel whether there was any objection to the court ...