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Domestic Relations – GAL Testimony – Harmless Error

Even if a trial court erred in allowing a child’s guardian ad litem to testify about what she observed, that error was harmless and the Court of Appeals affirms trial court orders that terminated the mother’s parental rights and refused to allow custody to the child’s grandmother.

Here, it is clear the GAL’s testimony was merely cumulative and did not influence the fact finder. Other witnesses testified to everything the GAL testified to. The court made no reference to the GAL’s testimony in its holding. Nor did the circuit court err in allowing testimony from Dr. Marvin, despite mother’s contention that DHS did not notify her of its intent to call Dr. Marvin as an expert witness. Mother conceded below that neither DHS nor Dr. Marvin acted in bad faith when Dr. Marvin reviewed the transcript of the testimony of Dr. Doyle. All the question posed to Dr. Marvin regarding Dr. Doyle’s testimony could have been asked in the form of a hypothetical question regardless whether Dr. Marvin had ever reviewed the testimony. The circuit court offered to allow mother to recall Dr. Doyle as a witness after Dr. Marvin testified. Mother declined to do so. We cannot say the circuit court abused its discretion by allowing Dr. Marvin to testify.

Mother has a developmental disorder that prevents her from adequately responding to her child’s needs. The circuit court also found that neither the mother’s companion nor the child’s grandmother could adequately care for the child. The companion has an anger problem and has struggled with drinking and severe depression. The 79-year-old grandmother lives half the year in Maryland and half the year in Maine. While she is in Maryland, grandmother resides in an assisted living home that does not allow children. DHS ordered an “interstate compact home study” of grandmother’s Maine home that recommended against placing a child in that home. Grandmother is a cancer survivor and has also had a series of minor strokes.

Judgment affirmed.

Hey v. Arlington County Dep’t of Human Services (Humphreys, J.) No. 2795-07-4, Dec. 30, 2008; Arlington County Cir.Ct. (Almand) Thomas P. Sotello for appellant mother; Raymond B. Benzinger for appellant grandmother; Jonnise M. Conanan GAL. VLW 008-7-549(UP), 12 pp.

VLW 008-7-549

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