November 6, 2017

In re Ceana R., et al
177 Conn App 758 (2017)

Neglect, right to counsel

The respondent father appealed to the appellate court from the judgments of the trial court adjudicating his minor children abused and neglected. Three of the father’s previously appointed attorneys were permitted to withdraw as counsel. Prior to approving the appointment of a fourth attorney, the trial court warned the father that if that attorney was later permitted to withdraw, he would not be appointed a fifth attorney and he would have to represent himself or hire outside counsel. During a subsequent hearing, the court approved the appointment of the father’s fourth attorney, C, and issued the same warning to the father. A couple weeks after being appointed as counsel for the father, C filed a motion to withdraw her appearance, stating that it was impossible to establish an attorney client relationship given the father’s unreasonable demands, and the motion was denied by the trial court. During the hearing on C’s motion, as well as during a subsequent hearing, the father was again warned by the court that he should not expect the appointment of a fifth attorney if C withdrew as counsel. On the first day of trial, the father advised the court that he had filed a grievance against C and requested permission for C to withdraw as counsel, which was denied by the court. Upon a request for reconsideration by C, however, the court permitted C to withdraw as counsel, stating that it considered the filing of the father’s grievance as an act terminating C’s representation. Thereafter, the court concluded that the father had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appointed counsel by his conduct, and it declined to continue the trial to another date. After the father subsequently failed to appear on a set trial date, the trial court entered a default against the respondent father and adjudicated the minor children abused and neglected. This appeal followed. Held:

  1. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting C to withdraw as counsel, as the court properly determined that a de facto termination of the attorney-client relationship occurred based on the respondent father’s filing of a grievance against C in the juvenile proceeding
  2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the respondent father had waived his statutory right to appointed counsel by his conduct