NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
M.C., Defendant, and J.R., Defendant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF J.C.-R., a Minor.
October 22, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division,
Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FN-15-0211-16.
A. Allegro, Designated Counsel, argued the cause for
appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney;
Janet A. Allegro, on the briefs).
Cynthia L. McGeachen, Deputy Attorney General, argued the
cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General,
attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of
counsel; Francis A. Raso, Deputy Attorney General, on the
B. Valentin, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the
cause for minor (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, Law
Guardian, attorney; David B. Valentin, on the brief).
Judges Sabatino, Sumners and Mitterhoff.
appeal involves the standards and procedures for in
camera review and judicial disclosure of a parent's
presumptively-confidential juvenile records in child welfare
litigation brought by the Division of Child Protection and
Permanency ("the Division"). Although juvenile
records disclosure issues have arisen before in other
settings, no published opinion to date has addressed them in
the context of child welfare litigation brought by the
Guardian in this case objected to a father having
unsupervised parenting time with his eighteen-month-old
daughter, having learned that he had been adjudicated
delinquent several years earlier for committing sexual
offenses upon two minors. The father opposed the court
reviewing or disclosing his juvenile records, asserting they
are confidential under N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60.
hearing oral argument, the Family Part judge reviewed the
father's records in camera. The judge then
released the records in their entirety to counsel, pursuant
to a protective order confining their use to the present
Title 30 litigation. Eventually, the judge suspended the
father's visitation with his young daughter, unless and
until he submitted to a psychological evaluation.
appeal, the father challenges the manner in which the trial
court addressed his privacy concerns relating to his juvenile
records. Specifically, he argues: the Law Guardian's
request for in camera review of the records was
based upon hearsay information and was insufficient to
trigger such review; the trial court erroneously declined his
request to hold a hearing and conduct oral argument after
completing the in camera review; and the court
failed to adhere to Supreme Court precedent and provide a
statement of reasons for its determination to release all 176
pages of his juvenile records to the Division and the Law
Guardian. The father does not contest, however, the trial
court's restriction of his parenting time. In fact, he
surrendered his parental rights to his daughter while this
appeal was pending.
reasons that follow, we affirm the Family Part judge's
decision to conduct an in camera review of the
records. We also uphold the judge's denial of the
father's request for the court to conduct an additional
hearing after the in camera review was completed.
However, because the court's decision to release the
records without further hearing was not accompanied by a
statement of reasons, as required by case law and
Rule 1:7-4, we remand for the court to reconsider
the matter, make any appropriate modifications, and generate
the requisite statement of reasons.
J.R. ("the father") and defendant M.C. ("the
mother"), are the biological parents of a daughter,
J.C.-R., who was born in December 2014.The parents were
never married and did not live together at the time of the
allegations in this case.
The Division's Initial Involvement
Division was first notified of concerns regarding the
child's welfare in April 2015, upon receiving a report
that the mother had expressed suicidal ideations and the
father had a history of stealing.
an ensuing investigation, the Division learned that the
mother had a history of substance abuse and was on probation
through the Pretrial Intervention Program for possession of
crack cocaine and burglary. The investigation revealed the
father also had a history with the Division. In particular,
when he was fourteen, the father was arrested in February
2009 and again in May 2009, and charged with multiple counts
of aggravated sexual assault for sexually assaulting his
nine-year-old neighbor and his eleven-year-old cousin. The
Division was contacted after each of those
2015, the Division closed its initial investigation into the
parents, determining the April 2015 allegations of abuse were
The 2016 Referral
March 11, 2016, the Division received a new referral from
police, reporting a concern for the child's safety while
she was in the care of her mother. The report was made by the
child's maternal grandmother, who informed police that
the mother had left home that day with the child in her
vehicle, and the grandmother had observed the mother driving
erratically. The grandmother told the police the mother
abused drugs frequently, and that she would often leave home
for several days at a time, sometimes bringing the child with
her and sometimes leaving the child with the grandmother.
Division dispatched a special response worker to investigate
these reports. After being confronted, the mother admitted
that she had bought crack cocaine and smoked it in the
child's presence. She was arrested and charged with
possession of narcotics and the possession of drug
The Division's Litigation
March 11, 2016, the Division case worker conducted an
emergency "Dodd" removal of the child pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 to-8.30. The child was temporarily placed
with her maternal grandmother. The Division filed a verified
complaint in the Family Part to appoint a Law Guardian with
temporary custody. The father was named in the complaint as a
"dispositional defendant" only.
an initial hearing, the judge determined that removing the
child was necessary to avoid ongoing risk to the child's
life, safety, or health. Pursuant to N.J.S.A 30:4C-11.2, the
judge ordered the emergency removal of the child from the
care of the mother. The child was placed in the immediate
custody, care, and supervision of the Division. The parents
were allowed to have weekly visitation supervised by the
Division, and were required to attend substance abuse
April 2016, the trial court ordered the father to submit to a
psychological evaluation and extended assessment, and attend
parenting classes. The order specified that if all counsel
consented after receiving the results of the father's
assessment, the father could begin unsupervised visitation on
a self-executing basis.
The Request for Disclosure of the ...