IN RE: H.R., E.R. & J.R.
Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 0000006Z1723R00
Deborah S., Kehoe, Beachley, JJ.
Deborah S., J.
November 3, 2017, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County,
sitting as a juvenile court, entered orders granting
petitions filed by the Montgomery County Department of Social
Services ("the Department"), an appellee, to
terminate the parental rights of Mr. R. ("Father"),
the appellant, in H.R., E.R., and J.R., also
appellees. The children's mother, Ms. C.
("Mother"), consented to the termination of her
parental rights. At the time of the proceedings, H. was 6
years old, E. was 5 years old, and J. was 3 years old. Two
older children, R.R., age 10, and Y.R., age 9, are not
involved in this appeal.
presents three questions, which we have combined and
rephrased as two:
I. Did the juvenile court err by taking judicial notice of
and/or by admitting as public records materials from the
children's CINA files and materials related to
Father's criminal cases during the contested TPR hearing?
II. Did the circuit court err or abuse its discretion by
finding that Father was unfit to maintain a parental
relationship with the children?
following reasons, we shall affirm the orders of the juvenile
and Mother have five sons together. They have never been
married. The children lived together with Father and Mother
from birth through February 2015, except for a brief period
in 2014 when they lived with relatives in Ohio.
Department's involvement with Father and Mother began in
July 2014. At that time, Father, Mother, and the children
were living in an apartment on Piney Branch Road in Silver
Spring. On July 25, 2014, the Department received a report of
neglect after Father and Mother both were arrested and
charged with first- and second-degree assault, and
distribution of and conspiracy to distribute controlled
dangerous substances ("CDS"). Father also was
charged with a fourth-degree sexual offense. The charges
stemmed from allegations made by two 16-year-old girls who
Father and Mother hired to babysit the children. According to
the girls, in their presence, Mother performed fellatio on
Father multiple times; Father and Mother gave them Adderall;
Father forcibly kissed one of the girls and placed her hand
on his penis; and Mother physically assaulted one of the
Father and Mother were in pre-trial detention, the
children's maternal aunt took them to Ohio, where Father
also had relatives. A social worker with the Department asked
the local department in Ohio to assess the children's
safety. The Ohio department reported that the relative
placement was suitable in the short-term.
30, 2014, a Department social worker went to the Montgomery
County Detention Center to meet with Father and Mother. They
declined to meet with her.
August 7, 2014, Father and Mother both were released on bond
pending trial. The children remained in Ohio.
later, the Department received a report that Father might be
"barricaded in his apartment threatening to 'blow it
up.'" Father received inpatient psychiatric care for
four days following that incident.
contacted the Department in early September 2014, advised
that he had spent time in the hospital, and informed a social
worker that he wanted to retrieve his children from his
family in Ohio but that a condition of his bond was that he
not leave Maryland.
Father was able to modify his bond conditions to permit him
to go to Ohio and, by October 2, 2014, he had retrieved the
children and was again living with them in the Silver Spring
apartment. On that day, the Department received a report of
unsafe home conditions. The reporter stated that Father was
entering the apartment by climbing up a balcony because the
door to the apartment was off its hinges and impassible. The
conditions inside the apartment were "disgusting,"
"squalor," and "torn apart." Father and
Mother fled with the children when the reporter advised that
he or she was calling the Department.
November 2014 to February 2015, Mary Shine, an in-home
services supervisor for the Department's Child Welfare
Services ("CWS") division, was assigned to the
children's case. During that time, the Department
provided family preservation services to Father and Mother,
including gift cards for groceries and gasoline. Father,
Mother, and the children sometimes stayed at the apartment
and sometimes stayed in hotels. Father and Mother
acknowledged that the condition of the apartment was terrible
but told Ms. Shine that it had been damaged when the police
broke down the door to arrest them in July 2014, and again
when the SWAT team entered the apartment in August 2014
because Father was threatening to blow it up. Father
described the apartment looking like "Hurricane Katrina
went through it."
home visits, Ms. Shine observed messy, dirty conditions in
the apartment and very little food for the children. The
children appeared "bonded" with their parents. Ms.
Shine was concerned about both parents' mental health
issues and about their pending criminal charges. Father and
Mother did not have any plans for the children in the event
they were convicted, but Father was adamant that the children
not be returned to family members in Ohio.
January 2015, Father and Mother canceled four home visits.
When Ms. Shine arrived for a scheduled home visit on January
28, 2015, no one was home. She waited until, eventually,
Father arrived at the apartment. Father told Ms. Shine that
Mother was at the hospital with H., E., and J., and that she
was "losing it" because she had stopped taking her
psychotropic medications. Father agreed to enter into a
"Voluntary Placement Agreement" for the children to
be sheltered, but then did not show up to a February 2, 2015
meeting to execute that agreement.
February 3, 2015, the children were removed from the home and
placed in shelter care. On that day, Ms. Shine went to the
apartment because the older children had missed two days of
school in a row. Mother answered the door, but refused to let
Ms. Shine in. She said she would get the children and open
the door in a moment, but then did not do so. A pizza
delivery person arrived at the house and Mother opened the
door for him, but still refused entry to Ms. Shine. After ten
minutes passed, Ms. Shine called the police. Father and
Mother opened the door after the police arrived. The home was
littered with trash and clothing.
February 4, 2015, the Department filed petitions in the
juvenile court to adjudicate H., E., and J. children in need
of assistance ("CINA"). At that time, H. was 4 years
old, E. was 2 years old, and J. was 11 months old. H. and E.
were placed together in an agency foster home, where they
have remained throughout the instant proceedings. J. was
placed in another foster home, where he also has
February 25, 2015, Father and Mother each were convicted
following jury trials of two counts of distribution of CDS
and one count of conspiracy to distribute. Father also was
convicted of one count of fourth degree sexual offense. On
March 9, 2015, Father was sentenced to two terms of five
years' incarceration on each of the CDS counts and one
year for the fourth-degree sexual offense, all to be served
concurrently. All but three years of that sentence was
suspended in favor of a term of five years' supervised
probation. Mother later was sentenced to a term of
incarceration as well, but it was suspended in favor of
March 11, 2015, Father and Mother stipulated to all the facts
alleged in the Department's amended CINA petitions. The
court found based upon those facts (most of which were
recounted, supra) that the children were CINA and
committed them to the custody of the Department, with a
permanency plan for reunification. The court ordered that
Father would not be permitted in-person visits with the
children at his correctional facility until further order of
that time, Lori Weinstein, a social worker in the CWS
division, was assigned to J.'s case and to be
Father's assigned parent worker. Latashia Morton-Warren,
another CWS social worker, was assigned to H.'s and
was incarcerated for two years and three months. He spent
most of that time at Roxbury Correctional Institute
("RCI"), in Hagerstown, although he briefly was
incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Training Center
("MCTC"), also in Hagerstown, and spent over four
months at the Patuxent Institution, in Jessup, receiving
intensive psychiatric care. During the first year of
Father's incarceration, he was permitted telephone and
written communication with the children, per the juvenile
court's order. He moved to revise the restriction on
visitation and, by order entered March 7, 2016, the juvenile
court granted Father permission to have once monthly visits
with the children. Initially, the juvenile court ordered that
the three younger children visit with Father together and the
two older children have a separate visit. On July 6, 2016,
that requirement was removed, and all five children met with
Father together for a monthly visit. Father successfully
moved to modify visitation to return to the separate monthly
visits. An order to that effect was entered on July 22, 2016.
8, 2017, the Department filed petitions for guardianship and
to terminate Father's (and Mother's) parental rights.
Father timely filed an opposition to the petitions. Mother
filed a consent to the termination of her parental rights.
19, 2017, Father was released from prison. Around the same
time, Brooke Hinkle, a CWS social worker, took over for Ms.
Weinstein, becoming J.'s caseworker and the caseworker
for Father (and Mother).
31, 2017, and August 11, 2017, Father was evaluated by Alex
Rodrigues, Ph.D., a psychologist, at the Department's
request. Father refused to sign a release to permit Dr.
Rodrigues to speak to his current and former treatment
providers. As we shall discuss in more detail,
infra, Dr. Rodrigues diagnosed Father with bipolar
disorder with psychosis. He later added a provisional
diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder
October 13, 2017, the juvenile court held a permanency
planning review hearing and granted the Department's
request to change J.'s plan to adoption by a
non-relative, i.e., his current foster mother, and
to change H.'s and E.'s plans to custody and
guardianship. Father appealed from those orders, but
that appeal has been stayed pending the outcome of the
contested TPR hearing went forward on October 16, 17, 18, and
20, 2017. In its case, the Department called five witnesses:
Dr. Rodrigues; Ms. Hinkle; Ms. Morton-Warren; Timothy Cox, a
social worker at RCI; and Angela M., J.'s foster mother.
It introduced into evidence the de bene esse
deposition of Ms. Weinstein.
Rodrigues was accepted as an expert in forensic psychology.
He testified that his evaluation of Father was based upon a
clinical interview, a review of behavioral observations, and
psychological testing. Ordinarily he would have spoken to
past and current treatment providers and reviewed past
treatment records, but Father declined to sign releases to
permit him to do so. Based upon his evaluation, Dr. Rodrigues
diagnosed Father with "other specified bipolar
disorder." That condition is characterized by
"oscillating moods," primarily mania and
depression. Dr. Rodrigues opined that Father met all the
directly observable criteria for bipolar disorder:
irritability, grandiosity, pressured speech, and tangential
speech, but that "[t]here was the need for one
additional criteri[on] to be met . . . [to make a] full
diagnosis." The other possible criteria, which were not
directly observable during the evaluation, included
"impulsivity in life, promiscuous behavior in . . .
regards to sexual behavior, potential drug use."
Rodrigues opined as to each of the criteria that were met.
Grandiosity is the tendency to inflate one's self-image
in "impractical" ways. As an example, Father told
Dr. Rodrigues that he expected to become a paralegal, despite
not having graduated from high school. Father's
psychological testing also revealed "an elevation on the
grandiosity scale." Father displayed pressured speech,
which Dr. Rodrigues characterized as "like machine[ gun]
fire . . . . speaking at a very high speed," as well as
tangential speech, which involves the inability to stay on
topic. Dr. Rodrigues noted that on several occasions during
the clinical interview, he had to "redirect" Father
"back to the item or question I had specifically
asked." Finally, Father displayed irritability
"towards a great number of people."
Rodrigues found Father to be an unreliable reporter. He
explained that he uses a two-step process to determine
reliability. First, he "look[s] at the information
provided in the self-report" to gauge if the responses
are "straightforward," "logical," and
"possible." Second, if he finds the responses to be
unreliable, he considers the "motivation behind them
being unreliable." Dr. Rodrigues "found [Father] to
be unreliable based on three different elements." First,
his psychological testing showed "defensive[ness]."
Second, his self-report of his arrest history was
inconsistent with the history available to Dr. Rodrigues on
the Maryland Judiciary Case Search database. Third,
Father told "very convoluted" stories in which he
"externaliz[ed] or place[d] blame on people outside of
Rodrigues opined that "[l]ack of insight or . . .
awareness of your psychiatric illness" is a "common
feature" in those with bipolar disorder and Father
displayed "limited insight." He told Dr. Rodrigues
that he was taking Celexa, an anti-depressant, and Lithium, a
drug used to treat bipolar disorder, but believed he would
not need to continue taking these medications in the future.
This was "particularly concerning" to Dr.
Rodrigues. Father also continued to exhibit
"symptomology" of bipolar disorder, leading Dr.
Rodrigues to question whether Father was consistent with his
medication or whether his dose was appropriate.
Rodrigues's view, Father would have difficulty
"absorb[ing] any information" if he were manic,
because irritability and grandiosity both would be high.
Thus, if Father's bipolar disorder was untreated, it
could be a "potential barrier" to his ability to
"adapt or correct his behaviors."
Dr. Rodrigues completed his evaluation of Father, he had the
opportunity to review "two to three additional pieces of
collateral documents" supplied to him by the Department.
First, he reviewed a "functional report" completed
by Father while he was incarcerated, in which Father
self-reported that in addition to Celexa and Lithium, he also
was prescribed Risperdal, an anti-psychotic, and that he
feared being "set up, persecute[d], dying, com[ing] back
to life." That document led Dr. Rodrigues to amend his
diagnosis of Father to bipolar disorder with psychosis, or
"a disconnect [with] reality," which was not
evident from the clinical evaluation.
Rodrigues also had reviewed the sentencing memorandum
prepared by the State's Attorney's Office in
Father's 2014 criminal case,  as well as Father's
deposition testimony. Those documents revealed a "much
more extensive criminal history" than Father had
disclosed during his evaluation. Father had disclosed his
recent criminal convictions, for which he had been
incarcerated, and a prior weapons possession charge. He did
not report his criminal history as an adult and as a juvenile
in Ohio and Washington, D.C. That history (and Father's
omission of it during the evaluation) led Dr. Rodrigues to
consider a "provisional diagnosis" of ASPD, which
is a "long enduring personal disposition that shows a
disregard for the norms of society as well as the rights and
wishes of others." Had Dr. Rodrigues been aware of that
history during Father's evaluation, he would have pursued
additional lines of questioning.
M. testified that she had been J.'s foster mom since
February 2015. She also was fostering J.'s maternal
half-sister and maternal half-brother. When J. entered Angela
M.'s care, he was "wounded." He suffered from
hydrocephalus, causing his head to be extremely large for his
age. He was eleven months old but could not crawl and could
"barely hold his bottle." He showed very little
emotion. When he cried, he shed tears but made no sound. By
age three, however, he was developmentally normal. He was
"smart as a whip" and was able to swim. Angela M.
testified that she was willing and able to be an adoptive
resource for J.
Morton-Warren was accepted as an expert in the field of
social work, safety, and risk. In April 2016, she was
assigned to H.'s and E.'s cases. She had been
supervising visits between Father, H., and E. since that
time. She observed that Father was inconsistent in his
ability to set appropriate limits for the children and engage
with them. E. often acted out during visits and, while Father
initially would correct him, he (Father) often ignored the
inappropriate behavior if E. resumed it. H. often did not
want to attend visits with Father. It sometimes took Ms.
Morton-Warren forty minutes to convince H. to attend visits,
and other times visits with H. were cancelled.
Morton-Warren opined that H. and E. "care about their
dad[, ]" but that they have a "mix of
emotions." They did not seek him out for
"security." They are extremely bonded to each other
and to their other siblings, however.
E. both had adjusted well to their foster placement. The home
was highly structured, which was healthy for the boys. The
foster family was very involved in the children's school
and were able to attend meetings whenever the boys had
problems. H. and E. were strongly bonded to their foster
permanency plan for H. and E. was custody and guardianship.
If Father's parental rights were terminated and the
foster parents were not willing to be an adoptive resource
for H. and E., the Department would conduct recruitment
efforts for a permanent placement. The Department could use
many additional adoptive resources after termination that
were unavailable pre-termination.
Morton-Warren opined that the children would not be safe if
they were returned to Father's custody because of his
serious criminal history and his failure to "come to
terms" with his need for services.
Hinkle, a licensed graduate social worker, was accepted by
the court as an expert in social work. In August 2017, she
was assigned to be the child worker for J. (and the two older
children not involved in this appeal) and to serve as the
parent worker for Father. In the latter capacity, she was
supposed to have weekly communication with Father. There were
times, however, when she could not reach him by phone or text
message. Ms. Hinkle obtained Father's email address to
facilitate regular communication. She explained that Father
often was not prompt in responding to email communications,
despite having advised her that that was his preferred method
Hinkle testified about a June 2017 service agreement between
Father and the Department. Father did not return the signed
service agreement to the Department for several weeks after
it was presented to him. He also made "handwritten
additions" to the service agreement. For example, the
service agreement required Father to attend substance abuse
counseling and anger management classes. Father handwrote on
the front page of the service agreement that he did not
"have a substance abuse problem or anger control
problems." He also wrote "unnecessary" next to
the section requiring him to take anger management classes.
Next to a section requiring him to participate in parenting
classes, he wrote that he already had completed and graduated
from a "father's program."
requirement of the service agreement was that Father obtain
suitable housing. He had been homeless and living in shelters
since his release from prison. The Department attempted to
assist Father to find housing, but due to his status as a
registered sex offender, they were unsuccessful. Father
advised the Department that he was saving up money to find
housing and that he might be able to move in with his sister
but had provided no documentation of those efforts.
also was required to find employment. He told the Department
he was doing landscaping jobs, but he had not provided any
documentation of employment or any attempts to find
employment. His only source of income, as far as Ms. Hinkle
knew, was social security disability benefits. He had not
provided documentation of that income, however.
was required to meet with his parole officer and follow all
her recommendations. Father refused to sign a release to
permit Ms. Hinkle to receive copies of his parole
officer's records. In email correspondence with
Father's parole officer, Ms. Hinkle learned that Father
was required to meet with his parole officer once weekly, on
Tuesday or, if he missed that meeting, on Thursday. He was
not required to submit to urinalysis.
of the service agreement, the Department asked Father to sign
releases to permit them to communicate with his various
healthcare service providers. Father was unwilling to sign
releases to permit the Department to speak to his
psychiatrist, Bruce Tanenbaum, M.D.; to RCI, MCTC, and
Patuxent officials about mental health services he received
while in prison; or, as mentioned, to his parole officer. Ms.
Hinkle testified that the releases would have been helpful to
the Department in "assessing what's going to be
potentially a safe placement for [the children]." She
elaborated that it was difficult for her to "make a full
assessment to say that the children [would] be safe returning
to [Father] if [she didn't] have all th[e] information
[about his criminal history and his mental health]."
Department referred Father for random urinalysis in August
2017. There were numerous problems with scheduling the
testing, however, some caused by Father and some caused by
the testing center. When Father's deposition was taken in
this case, Ms. Hinkle asked him to go directly for urinalysis
testing, which was at a facility across the street from where
he was deposed. Despite knowing that he needed to provide
urine for testing, Father used the restroom at the deposition
location and then was unable to produce urine for testing. On
a later date, also after a deposition, Father was able to
provide a urine sample. The results showed that he tested
positive for amphetamines. Father told Ms. Hinkle he had been
prescribed Adderall. Because Father had not signed a release
for information from Dr. Tanenbaum, however, the Department
could not determine whether this test result reflected
prescribed drugs or illicit drug use.
did not comply with the Department's directive that he
participate in anger management classes and parenting
classes. He had agreed to work with a parenting coach during
visits with the children. The parenting coach selected by the
Department required Father to meet with her for at least one
individual session prior to attending a visitation session,
however. Ms. Hinkle gave Father at least two weeks'
notice of that individual session, but Father cancelled the
appointment on the day of the session because he said he had
a landscaping job and a meeting with his attorney that day.
The parenting coach had offered to accommodate Father on a
weekend day if that worked better for him, but he had yet to
reschedule the appointment.
also was not receiving individual therapy, as required by the
service agreement. Dr. Tanenbaum had made a referral for
Father, but he had not commenced treatment. He also had not
provided the Department with any documentation that he was
participating in psychiatric medication management, another
requirement under the service agreement.
role as J.'s child worker, Ms. Hinkle monitored his
placement with Angela M. She opined that J. was "already
adjusted" to that placement when she took over his case.
That was "his home" and he was always happy to
return there after visits with his siblings and Father.
Hinkle opined that she did not believe "the . . .
children would be able to be safe in [Father's care] . .
. for several reasons [including] . . . the extent of his
criminal history[, ] [t]he lack of appropriate stable
housing, [and] the lack of knowledge of [Father's] mental
health and his treatment[.]" She noted that his recent
criminal history was very concerning, particularly because it
had involved sexual behavior with and in the presence of
minors and the giving of drugs to minors. With respect to
Father's mental health, Ms. Hinkle opined that the lack
of a definitive diagnosis coupled with the lack of
information about his medication protocol made it impossible
for her to fully assess the children's safety were they
to be returned to Father's care.
unreliable reporting, as detailed by Dr. Rodrigues, also
concerned Ms. Hinkle. She explained that the Department could
only offer services based upon needs identified by Father and
he was not consistent in the information he provided them.
Hinkle opined that the children's "emotional
safety" in the home with Father was "just as
important as the[ir] physical safety." H., for example,
had a need for "stability" and
"reassurance," and she was uncertain that Father
could offer that to him. Moreover, to the extent the children
needed services, Ms. Hinkle did not think Father would be
consistent in following through with those services, based on
his demonstrated inability to maintain his own appointments.
She did not believe that giving Father additional time would
lead to an adjustment in life circumstances that would permit
the children to return to his care. Ms. Hinkle emphasized
that while Father had been consistent with visits with the
children, there was no evidence that the children's bond
with him had increased. They were more "familiar"
with Father, but not more attached to him. Their primary
attachment remained to their foster parent caregivers.
Hinkle opined that termination of Father's parental
rights to J. would not negatively affect J., emotionally or
otherwise. On the contrary, it would have a positive impact
in that J. could achieve permanency in his foster home where
he had lived as long as he could remember. J.'s foster
mother was "more than ready to move through [with
Cox, a licensed clinical social worker for the Department of
Corrections, testified that he ran a parenting group called
"Inside Out Dad" at RCI. The program lasted between
10 to 15 sessions, with 10 to 18 participants. Father had
participated in the Inside Out Dad program, attending 10 out
of the 15 group sessions. He had "actively participated
in all of the sessions that he was present." He
frequently was "disruptive" during group sessions,
however, because he would "go off on tangents that
weren't related to the topic matter." Father
sometimes showed "insight" into his own parenting
issues during the group sessions, but other times he
"seemed to be at odds with the majority of the
group." Mr. Cox recalled Father stating that he would
encourage his children to challenge authority, particularly
schooling and law enforcement authority, at every turn.
also had provided release planning to Father. Father
identified housing and SSDI as his two most pressing needs
upon release. Mr. Cox assisted Father in submitting an online
application for SSDI and a "function report." He
also looked into housing options for Father, but his options
were extremely limited due to his status as a registered sex
parties stipulated that Ms. Weinstein, a licensed certified
clinical social worker, was an expert in the field of social
work. Ms. Weinstein was on medical leave from the Department
and was unavailable to testify at the TPR hearing. Her
deposition testimony was used in place of live testimony. Ms.
Weinstein testified that she was assigned to the
children's case as a reunification worker beginning in
September 2016 and continuing through the summer of 2017. In
her opinion, the children would not be safe if they were
returned to Father's care because he had a "lengthy
history of violent, inappropriate behaviors" and
"mental health" issues. She noted that the
Department had "very little information concerning
[Father's] mental health[, ]" but that he
"demonstrated some very concerning behaviors." His
refusal to provide releases made it impossible for the
Department to fully "ascertain his diagnoses and his
medications." Although she believed that he "loves
his children very, very much[, ]" he had repeatedly
demonstrated an inability to provide proper care for them and
to keep them safe, physically and emotionally.
Weinstein explained that Father's criminal history, which
involved the recent conviction for fourth-degree sexual
offense and a prior conviction for indecent exposure after he
masturbated in a locker room in the presence of a staff
person, was indicative of his "[in]ability to manage his
behavior[, ]" particularly "inappropriate
Weinstein's observations during Father's supervised
visitation with the children also informed her opinion that
he could not provide a safe home for them. She recounted that
he had "demonstrated a poor understanding of child
development [and] a poor understanding of his children."
He was "willing to allow" the children to engage in
behaviors that were wholly inappropriate and failed to
intervene or redirect the children appropriately. While he
had been calmer and more pleasant since his release from
prison, he had not demonstrated that he had learned how to
manage his children's needs.
Weinstein had observed H. hiding and shutting down during
visits with Father. H. became "more and more
agitated" as the visit continued. E. became
"confrontational . . . combative . . . and
oppositional" during visits with Father. J. did not
"have a relationship with . . . [F]ather." He
"avoids" Father during visits, moving away when
Father attempts to get close to him. In contrast, J. was
extremely bonded to his foster mother and to her family
members who assisted in caring for him. Ms. Weinstein opined
that, if Father's parental rights in J. were terminated,
it would not have any negative impact on him. It would have a
positive impact in that J. would be able to be adopted by his
foster parent, with whom he has a loving and secure attached
lack of housing also was a major barrier to reunification.
When Ms. Weinstein had spoken to Father about this issue, he
had expressed his belief that his post-conviction proceedings
would be successful, resulting in his removal from the sex
offender registry. He did not have any alternative plans in
place should that not come to fruition. Moreover, his only