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Appeals court affirms Cortez custody ruling

Infant was abused in 2014, court documents show

A Colorado appeals court has affirmed a 2016 ruling in Montezuma District Court that allowed a local mother to keep the parental rights of her son after a contentious two-year custody battle.

The decision was announced May 18 with a 2-1 ruling, with appellate court Judges John Daniel Dailey and David Furman concurring, according to court documents. Judge Elizabeth Harris cast the dissenting vote.

In June 2014, the mother brought the child, then 10 weeks old, to the emergency room with a fever, according to court documents. It was later discovered that the child had a broken femur and a skull fracture, and the Montezuma County Department of Social Services was notified of possible child abuse, the ruling states.

The child was placed in foster care shortly after that incident, according to the ruling. The child’s mother and father admitted that the environment was affecting the child’s welfare, and both agreed to treatment plans, according to the ruling.

In July 2015, the child’s father was sentenced to eight years in prison for domestic violence and child abuse charges. He lost his parental rights for the child, according to the ruling.

The child’s mother continued to work toward treatment and retained parental rights, according to documents. However, in December 2015, Robert G. Tweedell, an attorney representing the best interests of the child filed a motion in court to terminate the mother’s parental rights.

Montezuma District Court Judge Douglas Walker denied that motion after a two-day hearing in May 2016. The county department of social services was represented by attorneys John Baxter and Ian MacLaren, and the child’s mother was represented by Cortez attorney Mark Reider.

The child’s former foster parents, represented by attorney Jill Carlson, appealed Walker’s ruling.

In affirming Walker’s ruling, appeals court Judge Dailey wrote that the foster parents had standing to appeal. However, he said the trial court did not find the mother unfit.

“(T)he court found that the evidence showed that mother could and would provide nurturing and protection adequate to meet the child’s physical, emotional and mental health needs,” Dailey wrote in his opinion.

Harris cast the dissenting vote, because she disagreed that the foster parents had the right to appeal Walker’s ruling. She said the court’s failure to terminate the mother’s parental rights did not cause damage to any legally protected interest of the foster parents, which meant they did not have standing to appeal the decision.

“I do not believe that foster parents have the substantial relationship with the foster child that would give them standing to challenge a court’s order granting or denying a motion to terminate parental rights,” Harris wrote in her dissenting opinion.


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