IN RE: ADOPTION OF C.A.S., A MINOR APPEAL OF: B.A.S, JR., NATURAL FATHER
from the Order Entered December 15, 2016 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Cambria County Orphans' Court at No(s):
No. 2016-890 IVT
BEFORE: OLSON, MOULTON, and STRASSBURGER, [*] JJ.
Jr. (Father), appeals from the order entered December 15,
2016, in the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, which
terminated involuntarily his parental rights to his minor
son, C.A.S. (Child). We vacate and remand for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
summarize the relevant factual and procedural history of this
matter as follows. Child was born in January 2012 to Father
and B.N. (Mother). N.T., 12/12/2016, at 15. Father and Mother
lived together for approximately three years prior to
Child's birth and separated approximately a year and one
half after Child's birth. Id. According to
Mother, she and Father separated as a result of Father's
drug use, which included bath salts, heroin, crack cocaine,
and pills. Id. at 16-17, 33. Meanwhile, Mother began
dating J.O. (Boyfriend). Id. at 28. Mother and
Boyfriend (collectively, the Petitioners) began dating
approximately two and one half years prior to the termination
proceedings, and began living together approximately six
months later. Id. On September 22, 2016, the
Petitioners filed a petition to terminate Father's
parental rights involuntarily, along with a report of
intention to adopt. The Petitioners averred that Father's
parental rights should be terminated so that Boyfriend can
orphans' court conducted a termination hearing on
December 12, 2016. Father appeared at the hearing pro
se, and requested that the court continue the matter so
that he could obtain an attorney. N.T., 12/12/2016, at 4. The
court asked the Petitioners' counsel what notice he
provided to Father regarding his right to an attorney, and
Petitioners' counsel explained that he mailed Father a
series of documents, including a "letter indicating that
he's receiving paperwork relative to his rights as a
parent, he has a right to a free attorney and to contact the
Register of Wills if he should desire one." Id.
at 4-5. Counsel continued, "it expressly says he must
file the enclosed in forma pauperis statement within
ten days of the scheduled date of the hearing and, if he
fails to do so, that the court will assume that he waives his
rights to request free legal counsel." Id. The
court reviewed the documents described by the
Petitioners' counsel, and asked Father whether he
received them. Id. at 5-6. Father acknowledged that
he did receive the documents, and that he contacted Laurel
Legal Services in order to obtain counsel. Id. at 6.
Father explained, "Laurel Legal called me and said that
they couldn't represent me because they don't take
custody cases." Id. The following discussion
then took place.
THE COURT: It says, Dear [Father], you are receiving
paperwork relative to your rights as a parent. If you feel
that you might qualify for court-appointed counsel at no
expense to you to represent you in these proceedings, you
must complete and file this financial disclosure form, send
it or deliver it to Patty J. Sharbaugh, Clerk of
Orphans['] Court, Register of Wills, Cambria County
Courthouse, with the address.
[Father]: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Did you do that?
[Father]: I didn't get that until November 15 is when I
signed for it, so I didn't get that until November 15. I
called Laurel Legal to see if I could get --.
THE COURT: Okay. Now it didn't tell you to call Laurel
Legal. It told you to call the Clerk of Courts Office; right?
[Father]: Well, I figured that's the way --.
THE COURT: Well, that's not ...