The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

July 6, 2012

Woman facing loss of her children wasn’t properly notified, Texas court rules

AUSTIN, Texas — State child-protection workers improperly relied on a newspaper ad to notify a Dallas mother about an upcoming trial to take away her four children, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Parental rights - “far more precious than any property right” - cannot be terminated unless the courts and state workers exercise a high degree of diligence, the unanimous Supreme Court ruled.

That standard was not met when Child Protective Services published a classified ad to notify Lamia Raibon about her pending trial in 2007 - particularly because Raibon wasn’t that hard to find, the court said.

Serving notice by publication is a last resort typically reserved for lawsuits involving somebody who is missing or unknown, but Raibon had met with a CPS caseworker and attended two court hearings around the time state officials moved to end her parental rights, the court noted.

“Service by publication deprived (Raibon) of due process,” Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson wrote for the court. “It was both possible and practicable to more adequately warn (Raibon) of the impending termination of her parental rights.” But the court stopped short of ordering a new trial for Raibon, who was accused of physically abusing her children and who tested positive for methamphetamine at the birth of her youngest child.

Instead, the court sought to balance Raibon’s rights with her responsibilities, returning her case to a Dallas trial judge with orders to employ a two-part test to determine if she is entitled to a new trial.

First, the judge must determine if Raibon waived her right to a new trial by waiting for two years to file suit challenging the loss of her children, who are identified only by their initials in court records.

Second, the judge must weigh whether a new trial would infringe on the “substantial interest” her children, now almost five years older, and their new family have in maintaining the court’s final judgment.

Although the children, Raibon and CPS “share an interest in a quick and final decision,” Jefferson wrote, “finality cannot trump a parent’s constitutional right to be heard.” “(Raibon) is entitled to a new trial unless she unreasonably delayed in seeking relief after learning of the judgment against her, and granting relief would impair another party’s substantial reliance on the judgment,” he added.

The case, 11-0282, was styled “In the Interest of ER, JB, EG and CL, Children.”

 

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