In this case, a division of the court of appeals held that a juvenile court did not have authority under C.R.C.P. 39 to convert a jury trial into a court trial based on a respondent parent’s failure to appear at a pretrial conference. People in Interest of J.R.M., 2023 CO 81 ¶ 1. The division also concluded that a respondent parent’s subsequent failure to appear at the court trial does not constitute a waiver of the right to a jury trial. Id. ¶¶ 18-19.
In this case, the mother requested an adjudicatory jury trial and the jury trial was continued. Id. ¶ 3. In the interim, the court required the mother to appear in-person for pretrial conferences and when she failed to appear at the last scheduled pretrial conference, the court converted the jury trial to a bench trial. Id. ¶ 4. At that pretrial conference, mother’s attorney argued against conversion of the jury trial to a bench trial, asserting that mother had COVID-19. Id. ¶ 10. The court rejected counsel’s arguments, believing instead that the mother was not appearing in order to avoid warrants for her arrest. Id. ¶ 13.
On appeal, the division looked to the plain language of C.R.C.P. 39 and found that it only permits an implied waiver of the right to a jury trial when a party fails to appear for the actual trial. Id. ¶ 15. The division then went on to hold that the mother’s subsequent failure to appear at the bench trial in the matter also did not constitute an implied waiver of her right to a jury trial. Id. ¶ 18. While the court sympathized with the trial court’s attempt to conserve court resources, it noted that if a change to procedure was warranted, the change would need to occur legislatively. Id. ¶ 19.
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