ADOPTION OF RAISSA. 
Heard: September 19, 2017.
filed in the Suffolk County Division of the Juvenile Court
Department on November 27, 2013.
case was heard by Stephen M. Limon, J., and a motion for a
new trial was also heard by him.
M. Cheyette for the mother.
R. Pariser for Department of Children and Families.
Peraner-Sweet (Kate C. Billman-Golemme also present) for the
Rizwanul Huda for the child.
Present: Vuono, Blake, & Singh, JJ.
result of her mother's incarceration, three year old
Raissa was left without a guardian, leading the Department of
Children and Families (department) to file a care and
protection petition. Following a trial in the Juvenile Court,
the judge found the mother to be unfit and terminated her
parental rights. The mother appeals, claiming that she was
denied due process when she was required to proceed to trial
without counsel. She also appeals from the denial of her
motion for new trial, primarily claiming she received
ineffective assistance from the nine attorneys who were
successively appointed to represent her. We affirm.
November 26, 2013, the mother was arrested at the scene of a
motor vehicle accident. She was allegedly driving under the
influence of alcohol when she struck a woman and her seven
year old child; the woman was seriously injured, and the
child was killed. The mother was held without bail on
criminal charges arising out of the incident. As no one
could be located to take immediate custody of Raissa, the
department filed a petition for care and protection in the
Juvenile Court. Ultimately, Raissa was placed with her
father, who obtained permanent custody, and the mother's
parental rights were terminated. The mother remained in
custody on the criminal matter during the pendency of the
Juvenile Court proceedings.
November, 2013, the judge appointed an attorney to represent
the mother. In March of 2014, that attorney moved to withdraw
at the request of the mother and indicated that an
irretrievable breakdown in communication had occurred. The
mother requested that another attorney be appointed to
represent her. Over the course of the following year, three
additional attorneys were successively appointed to represent
the mother. She effectively discharged each of them by
requesting each to withdraw from her case.
February, 2015, the judge appointed a fifth attorney to
represent the mother. At a May, 2015, pretrial hearing, the
mother refused to enter the court room. In July, 2015, within
weeks of the scheduled trial, the fifth attorney moved to
withdraw at the direction of the mother. At a hearing on July
1, 2015, the mother initially refused to enter the court
room. The attorney cited the mother's refusal to attend
court proceedings and her insistence on speaking in Spanish,
rather than in English (although they had always communicated
in English in the past without any difficulty), as additional
grounds for withdrawal. The mother was eventually persuaded
to come into the court room on that day,  and the judge asked
her about her ability to communicate in English. Speaking in
English, the mother stated that her first language was
Spanish; however, she agreed that she could speak and
understand English well. The judge then advised the mother
that he was going to appoint a sixth attorney for her, that
she had to communicate in English with the new attorney, and
that he was going to schedule a new trial date that would
give the new attorney sufficient time to prepare.
same hearing, the judge heard the mother's complaints
about her attorneys. The mother complained that her current
attorney would not provide her with copies of certain
documents. The judge explained that issues of confidentiality
prevented the attorney from doing so. He told the mother that
he would not continue the case again and that, if she could
not cooperate with the new attorney, she would have to
represent herself at trial. He discouraged
self-representation in favor of reliance on competent counsel
with expertise in the field. He emphasized the important
stakes involved, namely the ability of the mother to have
custody of her child, and the importance of finality,
particularly for Raissa.
September 30, 2015, the mother's sixth attorney moved to
withdraw, citing an irretrievable breakdown in communications
with his client. The attorney indicated that the mother had
written a letter instructing him to withdraw and then had
refused to meet with him when he attempted to visit with her
to discuss the matter. The judge allowed the attorney to
withdraw. He also ordered a court clinic evaluation
(evaluation) of the mother's competency to represent
herself, in the event that she intended to do so. In the
event that the mother was still seeking successor counsel or
at least standby counsel, the judge appointed a seventh
attorney to represent the mother. The trial was rescheduled
for January 21, 2016. A month before the trial date, however,
the seventh attorney also moved to withdraw, indicating that
the mother had discharged him.
January 21, 2016, the mother appeared for the court hearing,
representing herself (with her seventh attorney present as
standby counsel) and speaking through a Spanish language
interpreter. The mother complained that the seventh attorney
had not worked on the case as she had requested. She asked
the judge to appoint another attorney, to give her the
assistance of a Spanish language interpreter, and to allow
her to complete the evaluation. The judge arranged for the
evaluation,  continued the trial, and appointed an
eighth attorney to represent the mother, emphasizing that the
trial must take place on the next scheduled date.
March 30, 2016, the next scheduled trial date, the eighth
attorney moved to withdraw at the mother's request. The
attorney cited an irretrievable breakdown in communication as
well as ethical issues with continued representation. The
judge allowed the attorney to withdraw.
judge then considered the mother's request for a Spanish
language interpreter. After finding that the mother did not
need the services of an interpreter due to her exhibited
proficiency in English, both in her communications with the
judge and her attorneys, the judge then excused the
interpreter, who had been present in the court room. The
judge asked the mother whether there was any reason that the
trial should not go forward as planned. After the mother
failed to answer the judge's repeated questions, he noted
that the mother was "sitting there and is not responding
in any way." Finding that the mother had engaged in
dilatory tactics to delay trial, the judge ordered the trial
to proceed. He appointed a new attorney to act as standby
counsel to assist ...