People in Interest of T.M.S., 2019 COA 136

A division of the court of appeals considers the role of parents’ GALs. The division declares that parents’ GALs do not participate as a party or a party’s advocate in D&N proceedings, and instead have an assistive role of facilitating communication between parents and parents’ counsel and helping parents participate in proceedings. As a result, the division concludes that the mother’s GAL lacked standing to file a response to the mother’s motion to dismiss her GAL, the district court erred in denying the mother’s motion to remove the mother’s GAL, and the district court erred in permitting the mother’s GAL to provide a closing argument.

In determining whether such errors were harmless, the division acknowledges that the Colorado Supreme Court has not determined whether a constitutional harmless error standard applies to parents’ constitutional rights in D&N proceedings, but assumes that it does. In applying this standard, the division finds the errors of the juvenile court harmless because there is no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different if the juvenile court dismissed the mother’s GAL or prevented the mother’s GAL from making a closing argument. The juvenile court explicitly stated that while it listened to the parties’ arguments, it based its ruling solely on the testimony presented. Moreover, ample evidence supported the juvenile court’s termination findings.

The division also determines that the mother’s first attorney did not render ineffective assistance in requesting the appointment of a GAL and permitting the GAL to advocate against the mother’s goal of reunification because there was no reasonable probability that the GAL’s conduct prejudiced the mother. The division affirms the district court order denying the mother’s requests to continue the termination hearing because the record supports the juvenile court’s finding that the mother did not establish good cause for granting a delay and the mother provided no basis for the juvenile court to find that a delay would serve the best interests of the child. Finally, the division finds that mother’s second attorney did not render ineffective assistance by failing to secure the testimony of a witness because the mother did not explain how the testimony of the witness would have affected the outcome of the case.

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