IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF: L.F.R. A Minor Child.
Submitted on Briefs: October 31, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In
and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DA 18-0023
Honorable Donald L. Harris, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Andrew Keith Randles, Self-Represented, Shawmut,
Appellee: Brianne E. Radovich, Attorney at Law, Billings,
A.K.R. (Father) appeals from the Order and Decree of Adoption
issued by the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone
County, terminating his parental rights and ordering the
adoption of his minor daughter, L.F.R., by her stepfather,
K.J.D. We reverse and remand for further proceedings,
addressing the following issue:
Did the District Court err by terminating Father's
parental rights in violation of his right to counsel?
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
L.F.R. is the natural child of Father and S.M.T. (Mother).
The District Court found that L.F.R. "has been with
[Mother] and in her custody ever since birth," but that
L.F.R.'s paternal great-grandparents "have been
parenting the minor child under the Final Parenting Plan
dated April 16, 2015." Prior to and during the time
covered by the Final Parenting Plan, Father failed to
exercise his visitation rights with L.F.R., did not
financially contribute to L.F.R.'s care, or otherwise be
involved "in any meaningful way" with her life.
In December 2015, Mother married K.J.D., who became
L.F.R.'s stepfather. L.F.R. began living with Mother and
K.J.D., and, in March 2018, K.J.D. petitioned for termination
of Father's parental rights, and for adoption of L.F.R.,
pursuant to § 42-2-608, MCA. At the May 7, 2018 hearing
on the petition, K.J.D., Mother, and L.F.R.'s paternal
great-grandparents all appeared and were represented by
counsel. Father also appeared, but was not represented by
On May 12, 2018, the District Court entered an order
terminating Father's parental rights and granting
K.J.D.'s petition to adopt L.F.R., concluding the
adoption was in L.F.R.'s best interests. The District
Court did not address either any position taken by
L.F.R.'s great-grandparents on the petition, or the
status of their interest under the Final Parenting Plan.
Father appeals, contending the District Court's failure
to notify him of his right to counsel during the proceeding
violated his constitutional rights. Additional facts will be
The Court's review of constitutional questions is
plenary. A.W.S. v. A.W., 2014 MT 322, ¶ 10, 377
Mont. 234, 339 P.3d 414. We review a district court's
decision to terminate parental rights for abuse of
discretion, determining whether the court's underlying
factual findings were clearly erroneous. J.M. v.
R.H., 2015 MT 231, ...