IN RE LEILAH W. [*]
April 7, 2016
from Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield,
Juvenile Matters, Ginocchio, J.
E. Schneider, Jr., for the appellant (respondent father).
Cynthia Mahon, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the
brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, Gregory T.
D’Auria, solicitor general, and Benjamin Zivyon,
assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).
Rebecca Mayo Goodrich, for the minor child.
DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Prescott, Js. [**]
respondent father, Richard L., appeals from the judgment of
the trial court, rendered in favor of the petitioner, the
Commissioner of Children and Families, terminating his
parental rights with respect to his daughter, Leilah
On appeal, the respondent claims that the court improperly
(1) failed to conduct a pretrial canvass of him in accordance
with our Supreme Court’s decision in In re Yasiel
R., 317 Conn. 773, 120 A.3d 1188 (2015); and (2)
determined, in accordance with General Statutes §
17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i), that the petitioner had proven by
clear and convincing evidence that Leilah previously was
adjudicated neglected and that the respondent has failed to
achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation to
encourage a belief that he could assume a responsible
position in Leilah’s life within a reasonable period of
time. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
record reveals the following relevant facts, which are
uncontested or were found by the trial court, and procedural
history. Leilah was born on September 2, 2013. On September
26, 2013, the respondent was arrested on burglary charges and
incarcerated. The Department of Children and Families
(department) obtained an order in October, 2013, granting the
petitioner temporary custody of Leilah after her mother
tested positive for opiates and marijuana. The petitioner
subsequently filed a neglect petition. Both the application
for the order of temporary custody and the neglect petition
identified Leilah’s father as Kenneth A.; however, a
December 16, 2013 paternity test later revealed that Kenneth
A. was not Leilah’s biological father.
was adjudicated neglected on February 11, 2014, and committed
to the care and custody of the petitioner. On March 21, 2014,
a paternity test identified the respondent as Leilah’s
biological father. The petitioner filed a motion on July 21,
2014, asking the court to order specific steps for the
respondent,  which the court approved and ordered on
August 6, 2014. On September 10, 2014, the court approved a
permanency plan of reunification and again issued specific
steps to both parents.
19, 2015, the petitioner filed a petition to terminate the
parental rights of Leilah’s mother and the respondent.
The petitioner also filed a social study in support of that
petition. With respect to the respondent, the petition sought
termination on the ground that no ongoing parent-child
relationship existed between the respondent and Leilah. On
July 15, 2015, over the objection of the respondent, the
court approved a permanency plan of termination and adoption.
At that time, Leilah’s mother consented to termination
of her parental rights.
thereafter, the petitioner successfully moved to amend the
termination petition with respect to the respondent. The
amended petition was filed on August 5, 2015, and included as
an additional ground for termination that Leilah previously
had been adjudicated neglected and that, considering
Leilah’s age and needs, the respondent had failed to
achieve a degree of personal rehabilitation necessary to
encourage a belief that he could assume a responsible
position in Leilah’s life within a reasonable amount of
time. With the amended petition, the petitioner also filed an
amended social study.
was conducted on the operative amended petition on October 5,
2015, before Judge Ginocchio. The respondent was represented
by counsel throughout the proceedings. Both the petitioner
and the respondent presented exhibits and called witnesses.
The petitioner’s sole witness was Reagan Horvay, the
department social worker assigned to Leilah’s case.
Horvay was cross-examined extensively by the
respondent’s attorney. The respondent testified on his
own behalf and also presented testimony from Elizabeth
Cooper, a counselor with the Department of Correction, and
Carl Hoyt, the department social worker case aide who
supervised his visitations with Leilah. The attorney for the
minor child presented testimony from Leilah’s foster
after the close of evidence, the assistant attorney general
representing the petitioner informed the court that it had
not conducted a canvass of the respondent prior to the start
of trial in accordance with our Supreme Court’s recent
decision in In re Yasiel R., supra, 317 Conn. 773.
In In re Yasiel R., which was decided on August 18,
2015, less than two months prior to the start of the
respondent’s trial, our Supreme Court held that due
process did not require a trial court to canvass a parent in
a termination proceeding regarding her counsel’s
decision not to contest the evidence presented against her
and to waive her right to a full trial. Id.,
787–88. Nevertheless, pursuant to the court’s
supervisory powers over the administration of justice, it
stated that ‘‘public confidence in the integrity
of the judicial system would be enhanced by a rule requiring
a brief canvass of all parents immediately before a
parental rights termination trial so as to ensure that
the parents understand the trial process, their rights during
the trial and the potential consequences.’’
(Emphasis added.) Id., 794.
remedy its oversight in the present case, the court asked the
parties to return to court on October 7, 2015, at which time
the court advised the respondent that it had failed to
canvass him in accordance with In re Yasiel R. prior
to trial. The court indicated that although the respondent
had been afforded a full trial with an attorney present, it
nevertheless was obligated to advise the respondent of
certain rights and to provide him with an opportunity to
consult with his attorney regarding those rights. The
following colloquy ensued:
Court: So what I would have said before trial is, before we
begin this hearing on the termination of parental rights
petition, the parent should understand that in the event the
court terminates your parental rights this will result in the
end of your legal relationship with your child. You will have
no legal rights, no authority and no responsibility for the
child. You will no longer have any rights to make decisions
of any kind affecting the child. You will not be entitled to
any state or federal benefits or entitlements on behalf of
the child. The child will be eligible to be adopted.
I’m assured that you and Attorney [Brya Ann] Darley
[the respondent’s counsel] did discuss all that before
the trial. Correct?
‘‘[The Respondent]: Yes, sir.
‘‘The Court: And Attorney Darley-
‘‘[The Respondent’s Counsel]: Yes, Your
‘‘The Court:-you confirmed that?
goes on to say, at the hearing you will have the right to be
represented by an attorney, you will have your lawyer with
you, your lawyer will help protect your legal rights. Those
legal rights include the right to question, confront and
cross examine any witness to test their memory and determine
if they are telling the truth. You will have the right to
object to testimony and to the admission of any documents or
exhibits including any social studies or psychological
reports. The objections must be made in accordance with the
rules of evidence. You will have the right to have your own
defense put on for you and you may call your own witnesses to
assist you in challenging the allegations made against you.
You have the right to testify-that is, tell your side of the
story if you want to do so, but no one can make you testify
because you’ll still have the right to remain silent.
If you do not testify the court could draw an adverse
inference against you-that means the court could decide that
you were not testifying because your testimony would not be
helpful to you. Finally, you are advised that if you do not
present any witness on your own behalf or do not cross
examine witnesses, the court will decide the matter based
upon the evidence presented at the trial.
you have any questions you wish to ask, please consult with
your attorney first. So, I’ll have you consult with
your lawyer and then let me know if you have any questions
about what I’ve just read to you.
‘‘[The Respondent]: I have no questions, sir.
‘‘The Court: All right. And anything further ...