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Tasha A. v. Arizona Department of Economic Security

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 10, 2013

TASHA A., Appellant,

Not for Publication – Rule 111(c), Rules of the Arizona Supreme Court

Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. JD504816 The Honorable Brian Ishikawa, Judge

Maricopa County Public Advocate's Office, Phoenix By Suzanne W. Sanchez Counsel for Appellant

Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Cathleen E. Fuller Counsel for Appellee Arizona Department of Economic Security

Judge Kent E. Cattani delivered the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Maurice Portley and Judge John C. Gemmill joined.



¶1 Tasha A. ("Mother") appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to R.M. For reasons that follow, we affirm.


¶2 R.M., Mother's biological child, was born in July 2012.[1] The Arizona Department of Economic Security ("ADES") took temporary custody of R.M. one day after birth, alleging Mother was unable to parent R.M. due to substance abuse and neglect. The court found R.M. was dependent as to Mother and ordered that R.M. remain in ADES custody.

¶3 DES offered Mother various reunification services, including psychological evaluation, substance abuse treatment, random urinalysis drug testing, parent aide services, and supervised visitation with R.M. Mother was compliant with parent aide services and regularly attended her visitation appointments, only missing a few appointments over the course of nine months. But Mother did not submit to a psychological evaluation, and she did not participate in substance abuse treatment. Nor did she submit to drug testing after September 2012. Accordingly, in April 2013, ADES sought to terminate Mother's parental rights on the statutory ground of six months or more in out-of-home care after initiation of dependency proceedings.

¶4 On the day of the termination hearing, Mother failed to appear at the scheduled start time of 1:30 p.m. At 1:44 p.m., the court began the hearing without Mother. Mother's attorney was not able to provide an explanation for Mother's absence. After verifying that Mother had been served through counsel, the superior court found that Mother had been properly served notice and failed to appear without showing good cause.[2] The court allowed ADES to proceed with the hearing. After considering progress and placement reports from August 2012 to April 2013 and the testimony of the case manager on direct and cross-examination, the superior court found that R.M. was less than three years old and had been in out-of-home placement for more than six months, Mother had substantially neglected or willfully refused to remedy the circumstances that caused the placement, and that termination was in R.M.'s best interests. On that basis, the court terminated Mother's parental rights as to R.M. and adjourned at 1:58 p.m.

¶5 Several minutes later, the court reconvened with Mother and her attorney present. Mother's attorney explained that a flat tire prevented Mother from arriving on time. In statements to the court, Mother said her phone was dead, but she later indicated that her phone worked, but would only allow her to send text messages. She stated that she was using a friend's phone after she had the flat tire, and that her friend's phone had died right after calling someone to pick her up. The court allowed Mother to file a written motion to set aside its oral termination decision.

¶6 Before the superior court entered a written termination order, Mother filed a motion to set aside the termination decision. At an evidentiary hearing on the motion, Mother submitted a handwritten letter offering an explanation for her late arrival at the termination hearing. The letter explained that she had a flat tire on the way to court and, after someone came to get her, they drove straight to the courthouse. The letter stated that Mother could not call the court because, after she made her call to get a ride, the phone had died and she "had no service and [t]he phone was dead." The court denied the motion. The court then entered a final written judgment, setting forth the requisite findings of fact and conclusions of law and terminating the parent-child relationship between Mother and R.M.

¶7 Mother timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, Section 9, of the Arizona Constitution and Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") sections 8-235 ...

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