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M.L.M. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 10, 2020

M.L.M.
v.
Madison County Department of Human Resources F.B.
v.
Madison County Department of Human Resources

          Appeals from Madison Juvenile Court (JU-18-537.02)

          EDWARDS, JUDGE.

         In appeal number 2180509, M.L.M. ("the father") appeals from a judgment entered by the Madison Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") terminating his parental rights to L.G.B.-M ("the child"). In appeal number 2180510, F.B. ("the mother") appeals from that same judgment to the extent it terminates her parental rights to the child.

         On October 24, 2018, the Madison County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed in the juvenile court a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of the mother and the father to the child. On October 26, 2018, the juvenile court entered an order setting the matter for a pretrial hearing to be held on November 8, 2018. That order indicates that it was to be served on Reta McKannan, the attorney for the mother, and Chris Messervy, the attorney for the father; however, the record does not contain a request to proceed in forma pauperis from either parent or an order appointing counsel for either parent, neither of whom had been served with the petition as of October 26, 2018. Messervy filed a notice of appearance accepting his appointment as counsel for the father on November 8, 2018; McKannan filed her notice of appearance as counsel for the mother on December 6, 2018.

         On November 26, 2018, DHR filed a motion seeking to serve the mother and the father by publication. The juvenile court granted that request on November 27, 2018. That same date, the juvenile court set the termination-of-parental-rights trial for February 26, 2019. Thus, the publication notice intended to serve the parents with the termination-of-parental-rights petition included the date of the termination-of-parental-rights trial. Messervy filed an answer on behalf of the father on November 30, 2018. On January 7, 2019, DHR notified the court that service by publication had been completed.

         When the trial commenced on February 26, 2019, neither the mother nor the father were in attendance. After brief introductions of those present, the following occurred:

"McKannan: Your Honor, I realize that you're excusing me and I appreciate it. My client contacted me a week ago.
"The Court: Okay.
"McKannan: She made an appointment -- A little more than week ago. She made an appointment. She did not appear to the appointment.
"She then called and asked to speak to me and have a phone appointment. I told her no, I needed her to come let me see her face-to-face and us discuss the case, and she declined to do that. I've had no further contact. That was the first time that I've spoken to her since I represented her four or five years ago.
"The Court: So the only contact you've had with her in the last four or five years was by phone a few days ago.
"McKannan: Yes, Sir.
"The Court: All right. And no contact since that ...

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