Father appealed termination of his parental rights. The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Fourth DCA) agreed with Father that the trial court erred in failing to advise Father of his right to counsel at the manifest best interests hearing. The Fourth DCA reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Father had counsel who represented him in several hearings. Counsel e-mailed the court and other parties prior to the manifest best interests hearing, informing them he had nothing further to contribute and asking for his appearance to be waived. The evidentiary hearing went forward without father or his counsel. Father was not questioned as to whether he waived counsel.
Pursuant to § 39.013(9)(a), the court shall advise the parents of the right to counsel at each stage of proceedings. Subsection 9(b) requires that once counsel has entered an appearance, counsel must continue to represent the parent throughout the proceedings.
Because the trial court did not advise Father of his right to counsel at the manifest best interests hearing or inquire as to whether he waived counsel, the Fourth DCA reversed and remanded for further proceedings.