No. 529 JANUARY TERM, 1978, Appeal from the Decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Orphans' Court Division, entered on the 14th day of December, 1978, at No. 151 of 1978.
Alfred Jason Mattei, Media, for appellant.
George A. Pagano, Media, for J. F.
Francis E. Mroz, Alexandria, Virginia, for natural mother.
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Manderino, Larsen and Flaherty, JJ. Manderino, J., did not participate in the decision in this case. Nix, J., concurs in the result.
This is an appeal from a decree of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County which denied appellant Children and Youth Services Agency of Delaware County's petition to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of appellee, the natural mother of J.F. The court below also decreed that J.F., who is under the custody of the Children and Youth Services Agency, be returned to appellee. No petition for custody was before the court. No opinion was filed by the court. A Supersedeas and a stay of the proceeding pending appeal were granted by this Court.
J.F. was represented in the termination hearing by an appointed counsel who has filed a brief in this appeal approving of appellant's arguments. Asserting that the judge was biased in favor of the natural mother of J.F., appellant contends the petition to terminate parental rights was denied an impartial hearing. Further, appellant contends the judge refused to permit presentation of evidence
necessary and relevant to completion of appellant's case.*fn1 Findings of the Orphans' Court, if supported by competent evidence, are to be sustained unless the court abused its discretion or committed an error of law. In re: William L., 477 Pa. 322, 383 A.2d 1228 (1978). Such is the extent of our scope of review where the court below has made a thorough review of the evidence. In re: Mintz Trust, 444 Pa. 189, 282 A.2d 295 (1971). Pusey's Estate, 321 Pa. 248, 184 A. 844 (1936). After careful review of the record, this Court finds the appellant was denied a fair opportunity to adequately present evidence necessary and relevant to a petition to terminate parental rights. Appellant was not afforded the thorough hearing of its case that would invoke a narrow scope of review limited to determining whether the decision below was based on competent evidence.
The record, excerpts from which are hereafter discussed, shows statements were made by the judge that appellant argues are indicative of bias. If a record shows that a trial judge has prejudiced a case or has shown bias or a capricious disbelief in the disposition of a case the decree based on such illegal considerations should be set aside. However, these constitute most serious charges against a judge and the record must clearly show prejudice, bias, capricious disbelief, or prejudgment. Pusey's Estate, Id. Many of the judge's comments criticized by appellant are susceptible to an interpretation that the judge misunderstood the grounds for termination of parental rights and became frustrated with appellant's failure to present the kind of evidence the judge erroneously believed was necessary to terminate parental rights.
In a case such as this, where error of law and denial of a full and impartial hearing are asserted, a detailed review of the ...