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Final Ruling in Stratton Custody Case
Judge Margaret L. Sharpe has terminated parental rights of Mr. & Mrs. Jack Stratton saying it is in the best interest of the children

April 1, 2003

From the Honorable Margaret L. Sharpe:

On December 2, 2002, the Court began the termination of parental rights in the case of In Re: Stratton. The case was concluded on April 1, 2003. Attorney, Michael Schmidt, represented Mr. Jack Stratton, the father. The mother was represented by attorney, Tina Ridge. The Department of Social Services, Division of Youth and Family Services (DSS/YFS) was represented by attorneys, Robert Adden and Twyla George, and the children were represented by Richard A. Lucey, attorney advocate and Nancy Zupanec, guardian ad litem.

On March 7, 2003, at the conclusion of the first phase of the case on the termination of parental rights, the Court found that the children had been neglected i.e. there was a lack of adequate housing, lack of sufficient food, a lack of medical care, and a lack of education. Additionally, there were efforts by the parents to circumvent North Carolina Law as to the education of the children. For over two years, the parents have refused to do those things necessary for the return of the children and thus willfully left the children in foster care. This Court found on March 7, 2003, that grounds existed to terminate parental rights. Specifically the Court found the children were neglected and that the parents willfully left the children in foster care for more than twelve months without correcting the conditions which brought the children into custody.

At the second phase of the hearing that involved what is in the best interest of the children, there was no evidence presented by the parents. If the Court determines that grounds exist to terminate, then this Court has discretion to decide what is in the best interest of the children. The Court is mindful of the size of the family and the previous conditions of the children and is sure there is familial affection. The Court is assured through expert and lay testimony that the children are thriving in foster care. The best interest of the children is to continue receiving the care they have received in the past two years and continue their formal education. The health, mental health, and educational achievement have greatly improved across the board for all nine children. The best interest of the children would be for them to remain in the custody of DSS. There was no evidence presented resulting in the conclusion that parental rights not be terminated. The only evidence and/or testimony presented upheld the previous conclusion of the Court on March 7, 2003. The North Carolina Juvenile Code Statutes must be adhered to if grounds exist to terminate parental rights i.e. parental rights shall be terminated barring any other consideration that would lead the Court to believe that it would not be in the best interest of the children to do so. Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Division of Youth and Family Services will retain custody with authority to place the children as needed until this case is settled on appeal.

Mrs. Stratton faithfully attended all of the sessions. Mr. Stratton attended on two occasions and one of those occasions was under subpoena. He never testified.

This Court provided Mr. and Mrs. Stratton with two opportunities to comply with the previous court orders for reunification. Mrs. Stratton partially complied with the previous Court's order. Mr. Stratton has not complied with the Court orders.

The professionals, including personnel of the Department of Social Services, experts and caretakers involved with the case are of the highest order and have faithfully followed the previous court orders and the law.

The parents gave notice of appeal in open Court today.

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