R.W. v. Department of Children and Families, 2016 WL 1239878 (Fla. 3rd DCA)

Mother appealed termination of her parental rights. The Third District Court of Appeal (Third DCA) affirmed termination.

The Third DCA found merit in only one of the issues mother raised on appeal, her claim that the trial court’s participation in the questioning of witnesses at the adjudication hearing constituted an abandonment of neutrality and impartiality. Although the Third DCA found no error or denial of due process, the Third DCA did caution the trial court as to the importance of impartiality. Pursuant to § 90.615(2), the trial court may question witnesses “when required by the interests of justice.” The Third DCA held in R.O. v. State , 46 So.3d 124 (2010) that such inquiries are appropriate to seek clarification and ascertain the truth. However, trial judges must ensure that they do not become advocates and instead maintain an appearance of neutrality in their words and actions. Riddle v. State , 755 So.2d 771, 773 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).

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