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People ex rel. H. K. W.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Second Division

May 18, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee, In the Interest of H.K.W., a Child, and Concerning J.W. and A.M., Respondents-Appellants, and T.K. and J.M., Intervenors-Appellees.

         Court of Appeals No. 16CA0975 Weld County District Court No. 15JV278 Honorable Elizabeth B. Strobel, Judge

          No Appearance for Petitioner-Appellee

          Scott A. Jameson, Guardian Ad Litem Carrie Ann Lucas, Windsor, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant J.W.

          Hopkins Law, LLC, Laurie L. Strand, James W. Hopkins, Loveland, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant A.M.

          Law Office of Keren C. Weitzel, LLC, Keren C. Weitzel, Longmont, Colorado, for Intervenors-Appellees

          ORDER

          DAILEY J., JUDGE

         ¶ 1 In this dependency and neglect proceeding, J.W. (father) and A.M. (mother) appeal the trial court's judgment allocating parental responsibilities of their daughter, H.K.W. (the child), to J.M. and T.K. (special respondents).

         ¶ 2 This case involves matters of first impression, to wit: (1) whether a trial court may conduct an in camera interview with a child who is the subject of an allocation of parental responsibilities proceeding arising from a dependency and neglect action; and, if the trial court conducts such an interview, (2) whether the court must cause a record of the interview to be created and then make that record available to the parents.

         ¶ 3 We conclude that the Children's Code permits a trial court to conduct an in camera interview with a child, and that due process requires that a record of the interview be created and, at least in certain circumstances, be made available upon request to the parents. Because the trial court in this case relied on the in camera interview of the child while denying the parents access to a transcript of that interview, we order that the record on appeal be supplemented with the transcript of the in camera interview. We further order that the parties be allowed to file supplemental briefs addressing whether the trial court's findings of fact from the interview are supported by the record. We will issue an opinion addressing the merits of the appeal following the completion of supplemental briefing.

         I. Background

         ¶ 4 The Weld County Department of Human Services (the

         Department) filed a dependency or neglect petition regarding the six-year-old child based on allegations of father's and mother's substance abuse; that the child had seen mother's boyfriend being kidnapped from the home; that the child had missed a lot of school; and that the family had been involved in two prior dependency and neglect cases because of substance abuse, lack of supervision, and domestic violence. The child was removed from the home and initially placed with father. Three days later, the child was placed with the special respondents. Notably, in the prior dependency and neglect cases, the child also had been placed with the special respondents.

         ¶ 5 Based on father's and mother's admissions, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected. The court adopted treatment plans, with which father and mother complied.

         ¶ 6 Father, mother, and the special respondents later moved for an allocation of parental responsibilities. At a hearing, the child's guardian ad litem (GAL) moved for an in camera interview with the child.[1] None of the parties objected. The trial court agreed to interview the child and told the parties that it would have a record made of the in camera interview and that a transcript of the interview would be sealed unless "the matter is appealed." Again, none of the parties objected.

         ¶ 7 Shortly thereafter, the trial court conducted an in camera interview with the child. The interview was recorded but not transcribed. None of the parties requested a transcript of the interview.

         ¶ 8 After a subsequent hearing, the trial court found as follows:

‚óŹ the child had been the subject of three dependency and ...

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