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Case No. 20-0934

In the Interest of H.V., Minor Child

J.H., Mother-Appellant

Attorney for Appellant Mother

Dusty Lea Clements

Attorney for Appellee State

Toby J. Gordon, Assistant Attorney General

Guardian ad Litem

Charles Fuson and Nicole Garbis Nolan

Court of Appeals

Court of Appeals Opinion

Opinion Number:
Date Published:
Oct 21, 2020

            Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan Cox, District Associate Judge.  REVERSED AND REMANDED.  Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.  Opinion by Tabor, J.  Dissent by Schumacher, J.  (27 pages)

            A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.  She contends the State failed to offer clear and convincing evidence that the child, H.V., could not be returned to her care when it relied exclusively on electronic exhibits at trial without calling a single witness.  OPINION HOLDS: The juvenile court improperly allowed the State to shift the burden of disproving the allegations to the mother, even though it permitted the mother to handle the witnesses she called as hostile.  Further, the rules of evidence governing the admission of evidence, including electronic documents, requires the proponent of the evidence to establish authenticity.  Here, the State cannot rely on the mother calling witnesses as providing authentication for the exhibits it proffered.  The witnesses did not testify as to authenticity, and the documents do not entirely reflect upon their authenticity; nor does the State argue they are self-authenticating.  The State made no effort when it cross-examined the witnesses to authenticate the documents through the mother’s witnesses.  The State also failed, when the hearing stretched to three dates over three months, to provide any updated reporting.  The record lacks clear and convincing evidence that H.V. could not be returned to the mother’s care on the day of the final hearing.  We reverse and remand the termination of the mother’s parental rights.  DISSENT ASSERTS: Because the juvenile court is instructed to admit all relevant and material evidence, the case managers were available for cross-examination, the juvenile court did not create a shifting of the burden of proof, and the mother suffered no prejudice, termination of the mother’s parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) (2019) is supported by the record.  Additionally, termination was in the child's best interest, a guardianship was not the preferred permanency option under the facts of this case, a six-month extension was not warranted, and reasonable efforts were provided to the mother for a one-year period.  I would affirm termination of the mother's parental rights.

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