People in Interest of M.A.W., 456 P.3d 1284 (Colo. 2020)

A companion decision to A.R., 456 P.3d 1266 (Colo. 2020), this decision concerns the appropriate standard for determining ineffective assistance of counsel in D&N proceedings and whether counsel for the father in this proceeding was ineffective.

In this case, the Court of Appeals determined that the father had established a prima facie case of ineffective assistance and remanded the case to the juvenile court to allow the father to develop a factual record. The father made several claims concerning his counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness, including lack of communication, not challenging the department’s failure to make reasonable efforts, not advocating for a less drastic alternative to termination, and failing to advocate zealously at the termination hearing by declining to make an opening statement or a closing argument, engaging in insufficient cross-examination of the caseworker, and stipulating that the caseworker was an expert witness. After an extensive hearing at which the juvenile court applied both the Strickland and the fundamental fairness tests, the juvenile court upheld the termination. The father appealed and, while the appeal was pending, petitioned for Supreme Court review under Colorado Appellate Rule 50. The department and GAL cross-petitioned for certiorari under the same rule. The Supreme Court granted the petitions.
Applying the principles it announced in A.R., the Supreme Court affirms the trial court’s findings that the father failed to establish his ineffectiveness claim and affirms the judgement terminating the father’s parental rights.

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