March 1, 2020

In re Gabriel C.
196 Conn. App. 333
March 2020

Respondent mother appealed a decision to terminate the parental rights of her four children, for failure to achieve personal rehabilitation within a time period that would lead the court to believe that reunification would be an option. Mother had been in DCF custody as a child; her appeal was largely based upon a claim that the trial court improperly denied her motion to disqualify her children’s GAL, on the ground that the attorney had also acted as mother’s GAL when she was a minor.  Mother also alleged that the trial court improperly admitted into evidence social studies submitted by DCF, because they consisted of hearsay and were not ordered by the court in accordance with applicable statutes.

Mother had a history of abuse and sexual assault from a young age, and was committed to DCF at the age of fifteen. As an adult, she had been involved in a series of relationships with men who had violent tendencies towards her, including the fathers of her children. Once her children were removed from her, mother regularly visited with them, but otherwise “routinely sabotaged her own progress toward rehabilitation.” She continued to inflict corporal punishment, discuss the ongoing legal proceedings with them, and most significantly, continued to have relationships with men who had histories of domestic violence. A court-appointed psychologist recommended that reunification would not be in the best interests of the children until mother addressed the repeated intimate personal violence in her life and demonstrated a better understanding of its effects.  DCF ultimately filed termination petitions, which were granted in April 2019.

On appeal, mother claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to disqualify the children’s GAL, on the basis that the same GAL acted as her own GAL as a child, 13 years earlier.  The Appellate Court, however, found that mother failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that the two proceedings were substantially related; the Court, on its own, could not conceive of any basis to conclude such either.  Further, it found that Rule 1.9 of the Rules of Professional Conduct was not implicated, as any information received by a GAL for the children is not subject to attorney-client confidentiality; that mother made only conclusory statements that the GAL might divulge confidential information regarding mother from the earlier proceeding; that the previous service as mother’s GAL was too remote in time and that as a result, she did not acquire information that could be used against mother in the current proceeding; and that any information that might have been confidential at the earlier proceeding was “certainly not confidential any longer,” where mother had already addressed some of her earlier history in subsequent proceedings.  Lastly, the Court asserted that by the time of trial, the children had a strong interest in having the GAL involved, as she had been involved in the matter for three years and was well acquainted with the children’s interests, and that any appearance of impropriety should be balanced with the competing interests of the children.   

In regards to mother’s second argument, that the trial court had improperly admitted social studies into evidence where they contained hearsay, the Court here determined that because she failed to specify which hearsay statements she objected to, DCF was not given the opportunity to argue which exception applied to which statement, and thus, mother could not prevail on her claim.  Further, in regards to mother’s claim that the social studies were improperly admitted because the trial court had not requested their production, the Court here found that although they had been entered before they were formally requested, to preclude them “would elevate form over substance” and serve only to unnecessarily delay the proceedings, frustrating the underlying purpose of the statute.

Finally, the Court denied mother’s claim that the trial court improperly found that DCF had shown that she had failed to achieve the necessary degree of personal rehabilitation. The Court held that upon its review of the record, the trial court “could have reasonably concluded, upon the facts established and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom,” that the evidence was sufficient to justify its conclusion.  As such, the Court upheld the termination of parental rights.