TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court Second District Court of Appeals, ruling against Gift of Life Adoptions, has denied a request for summary judgement in a case involving an incarcerated father, who filed a handwritten motion seeking an attorney.
The adoption agency lacked sufficient evidence to limit the petition for summary judgement, Judges Patricia Kelly and Robert Morris stated in their decision, filed July 27, in the Florida Supreme Court Second District Court of Appeals.
Gift of Life Adoptions "has not shown how the circuit court's order appointing counsel results in a material injury for the remainder of the case that cannot be corrected on post judgment appeal,” the judges said in their decision.
The case centers on Gift of Life Adoptions and an incarcerated biological father, referred to in court documents as S.R.B., who requested legal representation.
Florida law designates that in order for a child to be placed for adoption, the biological parents must terminate their parental rights.
S.R.B., who is incarcerated in Sarasota County Jail, filed a petition to be appointed legal representation, stating he was indigent but wanted to protect his rights as a parent.
The clerk of court stated it could not appoint him counsel, so he filed a handwritten motion requesting a court-appointed attorney.
The adoption agency argued that S.R.B. failed to follow proper legal procedures for filing a motion, stating his handwritten responses were insufficient; therefore he waived any rights he had to the child, the agency concluded.
A hearing was then held where S.R.B. testified by telephone, restating his request for a court-appointed attorney, which was later granted by the circuit court. The adoption agency appealed, stating that the circuit court’s decision to appoint S.R.B. legal representation visited material injury upon an unspecified party.
In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court states that the adoption agency's request for certiatori judgment regarding the father’s right to counsel fails to meet the legal requirements for relief.
Gift of Life Adoptions "has not cited, and we have not located, a single published decision where a court has construed a lawyer's representation to be, in and of itself, a cognizable, much less irremediable, injury in a termination of parental rights proceeding,” Kelly and Morris said in their decision.
The judges also argued that Florida law specifically recognizes that indigent parents are indeed entitled to court-appointed counsel for matters regarding the termination of their parental rights. They also stated the adoption agency's request could set a dangerous legal precedent.
“We are loathe to view what is a hallmark of adversarial proceedings in our judicial system as a material injury in this context.”