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In the Matter of Kathleen K. (Anonymous).

June 9, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF KATHLEEN K. (ANONYMOUS). SUFFOLK COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, RESPONDENT; STEVEN K. (ANONYMOUS), APPELLANT. (AND TWO OTHER PROCEEDINGS.)


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, J.:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports.

In June 2007, child neglect proceedings were commenced, pursuant to Family Court Act article 10, by Suffolk County Child Protective Services against appellant Stephen K., the father of Kathleen K. and Rachel K. At a hearing on June 5, 2007, testimony was elicited indicating that Stephen K. had subjected his children and spouse to mental and physical abuse. Family Court issued a temporary order of protection directing Stephen K. to cease all contact with his children except for supervised visitation. At a subsequent trial on September 7, 2007, Family Court found by a preponderance of the evidence that Stephen K. had neglected his children. Consequently, in the best interests of the children, the order of protection was made permanent; the children were placed in the foster care of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (DSS); and Stephen K. was ordered to, among other things, undergo a mental health evaluation, attend a parenting skills program, and obtain safe and suitable housing.*fn1

At a hearing on January 22, 2009, after learning that Stephen K. had failed to comply with the court-ordered conditions, Family Court concluded that the permanency goal for the children should be modified to "free [them] for adoption" and directed DSS to file a petition seeking the termination of Stephen K.'s parental rights. The mother of the children voluntarily surrendered her parental rights on December 18, 2008, and DSS filed parental right termination petitions on January 22, 2009 against Stephen K. on the ground of permanent neglect (see Social Services Law § 384-b [7]).

On March 31, 2009, prior to the commencement of trial, counsel for Stephen K. made an application to the court "to be relieved from this case" on the basis that Stephen K. had "refused to work with [counsel] to discuss, prepare for trial." The attorney further argued that it was impossible to work with, or provide effective assistance to Stephen K. because of his recalcitrant behavior. Family Court inquired about the application directly with Stephen K., but in an exchange with the court, his response did not address the application; instead he spoke about personal medical issues, financial issues, and the possibility of an adjournment of the trial. Family Court denied the application. After DSS had called its first witness, the following colloquy occurred between Family Court and Stephen K.:

"THE COURT: And you are not in a position to object. You have a lawyer. You cannot object.

"[STEPHEN K.]: I asked for the lady to be terminated. "THE COURT: You're ready to proceed on your own? "[STEPHEN K.]: If I have to.

"THE COURT: You can't proceed on your own. You don't know the law.

"[STEPHEN K.]: We went through this already.

"THE COURT: Sorry.

"[STEPHEN K.]: So you're refusing me an assignment of counsel.

"THE COURT: I gave you counsel.

"[STEPHEN K.]: I turned it down."

Additionally, on April 2, 2009, counsel for Stephen K. stated that she was renewing her application to be relieved and his application to represent himself. Family Court again denied the motion.

Following the completion of trial, Family Court terminated Stephen K.'s parental rights due to his persistent failure to comply with court-mandated conditions and the lack of evidence evincing ...


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