EX PARTE MONTGOMERY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES (In re: Av.M., a minor child). Ex parte Montgomery County Department of Human Resources (In re: Ai.M., a minor child). Ex parte Montgomery County Department of Human Resources (In re: Ad.M., a minor child).
Montgomery Juvenile Court, JU-19-277.01, JU-19-278.01,
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Marshall, atty. gen., and Felicia M. Brooks, chief legal
counsel, and Karen P. Phillips, asst. atty. gen., Department
of Human Resources, for petitioner.
on petitioner's brief only.
these three juvenile-court cases, the Montgomery County
Department of Human Resources ("MCDHR") has sought
mandamus review of orders entered by Circuit Judge Anita L.
Kelly ("the judge") denying motions filed by MCDHR
seeking the judge's recusal; each petition requests that
this court direct the judge to recuse herself not only from
hearing the particular case, but also from hearing all
juvenile-court actions involving MCDHR in which the judge is
sitting. For the reasons stated herein, we deny the
The Legal Background
judge in these cases is a circuit judge of the Fifteenth
Judicial Circuit, which includes Montgomery County. The judge
was elected to one of three designated judicial places in
that circuit designated as "family relations"
judgeships, exercising exclusive original jurisdiction over
juvenile matters in that circuit pursuant to a general act of
local application (Act No. 250, Ala. Acts 1959, as
amended). Such jurisdiction necessarily includes
the authority to decide whether a particular minor child is
dependent, whether an agency or a person other than a parent
should exercise custody of a dependent child, and whether a
parent's condition is such as to warrant termination of
parental rights. See Ala. Code 1975, § §
12-15-114(a), 12-15-314(a), and 12-15-114(c)(2).
to Ala. Code 1975, § 38-2-6, the Alabama Department of
Human Resources ("ADHR") is a state agency with the
"duty and responsibility" to perform various public
functions, including to "[e]xercise all the powers,
duties, and responsibilities previously vested by law in the
State Child Welfare Department," to "[d]esignate
county departments as its agents under its rules and
regulations to perform any of the [its] functions," to
"[s]eek out ... the minor children in the state who are
in need of its care and protection and ..., as far as may be
possible, through existing agencies, public or private, or
through such other resources, [to] aid such children to a
fair opportunity in life," to "receive and care for
dependent or neglected minor children committed to its
care," to "make ... examination[s]... of every such
child," to "investigate in detail the personal and
family history of [such a] child and its environment,"
to "place such children in family homes or in approved
operating in accordance with the provisions of this title and
supervise such children however placed," and to
"[a]dvise with the judges and probation officers of the
juvenile courts of the several counties of the state, and aid
in perfecting the organization and work of such courts."
County departments of human resources, such as MCDHR, have
"[t]he broad purpose... to meet the welfare needs of
[their] respective county citizens through the exercise of
the powers, duties and responsibilities designated by [ADHR]
to [c]ounty [d]epartments acting as its agents." Ala.
Admin. Code (ADHR), r. 660-1-2-.02(1). Among the duties
identified by ADHR to be performed by county departments of
human resources such as MCDHR is to "invoke legal
authority of the court by petition and secure adequate
protection, care, and treatment for children whenever
necessary to meet their needs and rights" when it
appears that parents of abused or neglected children are
unable to benefit from supportive family services. Ala.
Admin. Code (ADHR), r. 660-5-34-.02(1)(d).
Judge's Previous Judicial Discipline
August 2017, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission
("the JIC") initiated a judicial-disciplinary
action against the judge in the Alabama Court of the
Judiciary ("the COJ"), Case No. 50. In its
complaint in Case No. 50, the JIC alleged that the judge had
violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics ("the
Canons") in, among other areas, failing to manage court
business in a timely and efficient manner. Noting that,
Alabama law requires that trials in actions in which
termination of parental rights is sought must be completed
within 90 days from service and that judgments in such
actions be entered within 30 days of the conclusion of
termination-of-parental-rights trials, the JIC averred, among
other things, that the judge had failed or refused to comply
with those time standards in 27 out of 74
termination-of-parental-rights actions assigned to her
between January 2012 and July 2017. The JIC also quoted from
a July 2016 decision of this court in which we had noted that
"the ... judge has, in the past, engaged in a pattern
and practice of failing to comply with statutory
requirements only to take steps to comply after DHR has
filed a petition for the writ of mandamus with this court.
In no less than five cases in the last year, DHR has sought
this court's intervention to direct the ... judge to
comply with the time requirements set out in Ala. Code
1975, § 12-15-320(a), and to either set a
termination-of-parental-rights trial or to enter a
termination-of-parental-rights judgment. All but one of
those petitions had been mooted by the action of the ...
judge upon her receipt of the petition; one petition was
not mooted only because the ... judge thought that she
required our permission or instruction to enter the
requested termination-of-parental-rights judgment while the
petition for the writ of mandamus was pending before this
court. Deliberate or not, the... judge's continued
neglect of her duty to ...