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Interest of T.T., A Child Grand Forks County Social Service v. F.T. (Father

June 21, 2011

INTEREST OF T.T., A CHILD GRAND FORKS COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICE CENTER,
PETITIONER AND APPELLEE
v.
F.T. (FATHER), RESPONDENT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the Juvenile Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Debbie Gordon Kleven, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crothers, Justice.

N.D. Supreme CourtInterest of T.T., a Child, 2011 ND 111

This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]

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AFFIRMED.

Opinion of the Court by Crothers, Justice.

Interest of T.T., a ChildNo. 20110066

[¶1] F.T. appeals the district court judgment granting the State's petition to involuntarily terminate F.T.'s parental rights. We affirm.

I

[¶2] On September 17, 2009, the State filed a petition to terminate F.T.'s parental rights, alleging T.T. is deprived, neglected and abandoned and the conditions are likely to continue. A hearing was held on December 21, 2009. F.T. moved to sequester the State's witnesses. The district court granted the motion, stating that the State's witnesses should remain in the hallway until called to testify and that Irene Dybwad, the representative from Grand Forks County Social Services, could stay in the courtroom.

[¶3] The first witness to testify was Kristi Cavalli. "During the testimony of the first witness, Irene Dybwad was observed to leave the courtroom on two occasions. During a recess [F.T.'s attorney] observed Dybwad speaking with [the State's] witnesses." F.T. raised the issue to the court. The court gave F.T. the opportunity to question the witnesses that were seen talking in the hallway. The witnesses testified that no specific testimony was discussed, that they were told the State had a hard time qualifying Cavalli as an expert and that they were told to stick to their reports.

[¶4] F.T. moved for a mistrial. The State opposed the motion. The district court granted a mistrial, stating:

"I'm going to--I don't think I'm left with any alternative but to grant a mistrial in this case. I apologize. I guess I should have explained that sequestering means do not go--leave the courtroom and talk to any of the witnesses. I assumed that everyone involved in this case had testified many times before in a case like this and was well aware of that rule. But there should not be any comment ever on how someone's testimony was presented, how to testify, and I guess I'm really bothered by the fact that there would be any comment made on sticking to what's in your report or the trial tactics. That's part of the respondents' attorneys job is to not get somebody qualified as an expert.

"I have to grant a mistrial, and I would hope in the future that this doesn't happen. . . . I will tell you now I'm real leery about having a supervisor sit in the courtroom knowing that they weren't called to testify and then violating the rules of ...


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