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In re Hailey C.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

September 28, 2017

IN RE: HAILEY C.,[1] ET AL.

          August 15, 2017 Session

         Direct Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 208898 Sheila Calloway, Judge

         This is an appeal of the termination of a father's parental rights to his two minor daughters. The father is currently serving a thirty-four year prison sentence for criminal acts committed against his daughters. The children's mother filed a petition to terminate the father's rights to the children. Following a bench trial, the court below held that statutory grounds existed to terminate the father's parental rights and that it was in the children's best interest to do so. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, and Kenny Armstrong, J.J., joined.

          Lydle Willis Jones, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant,

          Fred C. Mark J. Downton, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Melanie C.

          OPINION

          BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Appellant, Fred C. ("Father") and Appellee, Melanie C. ("Mother") married in 1997 and divorced in 2009. Two children were born to the parties during their marriage (the "Children"). When the Children were ages six and four, they told Mother they were being sexually abused by Father. On November 19, 2009, a jury convicted Father of seven counts of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Father appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed Father's convictions on three counts of rape of a child and the two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Father's Rule 11 application for permission to appeal and affirmed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals on November 10, 2014. Father is currently serving a thirty-four year sentence with an anticipated release date in 2043.

         On July 21, 2015, Mother filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights to the Children, who were by then ages fourteen and twelve. Mother alleged several grounds for termination related to Father's sexual abuse of the Children and his criminal convictions stemming therefrom. Father was appointed counsel to defend against Mother's petition.

         Prior to trial, Father filed a motion to stay and/or to continue the termination proceedings until he exhausted all avenues of post-conviction relief in his criminal matter. Father also filed a motion to disqualify attorney Sharon Reddick from representing Mother in the termination proceedings. Father argued that, pursuant to Rule 1.11 of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, Ms. Reddick should be disqualified from representing mother in the termination proceeding because she was previously the prosecutor in the criminal case against Father that formed the basis of Mother's petition to terminate his parental rights. The trial court heard both of Father's motions on March 8, 2016, and denied his requests to stay the termination trial and to disqualify Ms. Reddick as counsel for Mother.

         The trial on the termination petition was held on March 9 and 11, 2016. The court heard testimony from Mother, Father, the Children, Father's relatives, and others. Father's criminal convictions were entered as exhibits to establish grounds for termination of his parental rights. Early on the morning of March 11, 2016, Mother moved the court to amend her petition to terminate parental rights to allege that Father's rights should be terminated based on the sole ground that he had been convicted of crimes rising to the level of severe child abuse, aggravated sexual battery, and aggravated assault as set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(g)(ll). The court allowed Mother's amendment over Father's objection.

         The court took the matter under advisement at the conclusion of the trial, and on March 30, 2016, the court entered an order terminating Father's parental rights to the Children. The court found that grounds existed to terminate Father's rights, in that Father had been found guilty of committing severe child abuse under a prior court order. The court further found that termination of Father's rights was in the best interest of the Children.

         II. Issues Presented

         Father presents the following issues for review on appeal, which we have restated:

1. Whether the trial court erred by denying Father's motion to stay and/or continue the parental ...

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