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State ex rel. Cramer v. Coleman

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Writ Six Division

July 16, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, ex rel. ALECIA CRAMER, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE JEFFREY T. COLEMAN, Respondent.

          Writ of Prohibition Circuit Court of Jefferson County Cause No. 17JE-JU00204

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Alecia Cramer ("Relator") filed a petition for writ of prohibition seeking to prohibit the Honorable Jeffrey T. Coleman ("Respondent") from proceeding with the underlying termination of parental rights action against Relator until Relator is appointed counsel to represent her in the matter. This Court issued a Preliminary Order in Prohibition. Our Preliminary Order in Prohibition is made permanent.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Underlying Action

         In the underlying action before the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County ("the trial court"), Respondent is presiding over a termination of parental rights case denominated 17JE-JU00204, which involves a minor child, C.D.C. and his natural mother, Relator. Relator has been adjudged totally incapacitated and totally disabled by the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County ("the probate division") and is currently a ward of Steve Farmer, Jefferson County Public Administrator.[1]

         The action seeking to terminate Relator's parental rights to C.D.C. was filed on April 3, 2017. Then, on July 3, 2017, an attorney entered his appearance on behalf of Farmer. On August 25, 2017, Farmer requested that the trial court appoint counsel for Relator, who is indigent. The trial court granted the motion, and on September 6, 2017, the court appointed David Crosby as Relator's counsel.

         Although Farmer initially requested that Relator be represented, disagreements soon arose between him and Crosby as to certain matters involved in Relator's case. For example, the parties disagreed as to whether Relator should appear at trial, who should have access to Relator's medical records, whether Farmer could consent to the termination of Relator's parental rights against her wishes, and ultimately, whether Relator's parental rights should be terminated. We note Farmer consented to terminating Relator's parental rights and allowing C.D.C. to be adopted by a third party. In contrast, Crosby asserted Relator wished to contest the termination of her parental rights.

         On May 1, 2019, Farmer, allegedly acting as Relator's court-appointed guardian, requested the court to remove Crosby as Relator's counsel. Farmer asserted in his motion that "the appointment of David Crosby and the existence of a represented Guardian [(Farmer) was] redundant." In response, Crosby filed a motion to stay proceedings to allow him to determine if Farmer's motion to remove him constituted a discharge of counsel under the applicable ethical rules or whether he could proceed with the representation. The motion to stay was denied and a hearing on the motion to remove Crosby as Relator's counsel was held on May 3, 2019. Crosby again asserted he was not ready to argue Farmer's motion until he received guidance from the Missouri Ethics Commission. Crosby orally requested the court to appoint a guardian ad litem ("GAL") to represent Relator's best interests as he asserted there was a conflict between Farmer's and Relator's stated wishes, but this request was denied. Subsequently, the trial court entered an order discharging Crosby as Relator's counsel.

         B. The Instant Writ Proceeding

         Relator, represented in a limited capacity by Crosby, subsequently filed the instant petition for writ of prohibition seeking to prohibit Respondent from proceeding with the underlying action until Relator is appointed counsel to represent her in the matter. Relator's petition alleges Respondent erred as a matter of law and exceeded his jurisdiction by discharging her counsel and in proceeding with the termination of parental rights action without Relator being represented by counsel. Relator's petition further asserts the disagreements about what was in Relator's best interests with regards to the termination of her parental rights motivated Farmer to file the motion seeking to have Crosby discharged. Moreover, the writ petition argues Relator's best interests are not adequately protected by Farmer and his counsel.

         Pursuant to an order of this Court, Farmer's counsel filed an answer with suggestions in opposition on Respondent's and Farmer's behalf. Thereafter, we issued a Preliminary Order in Prohibition, which ordered Respondent to refrain from taking any action in the underlying termination of parental rights case until further notice.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. This Court's Authority to Issue a Writ of ...


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