By Gretchen Schuldt
Lying to a judge about having ovarian cancer is enough to warrant losing a court battle over parental rights, a State Court of Appeals judge ruled this week.
"All the evidence demonstrates that S.S. conducted an intentional, continuous campaign to perpetrate a fraud upon the court, manipulate the parties in this case, lie to her legal counsel, and create fraudulent medical records.," District II Court of Appeals Judge Paul F. Reilly wrote.
The ruling upheld Waukesha County Circuit Judge Lloyd Carter's decision to enter a default judgment against S.S., as she was referred to in court records.
S.S.'s child, A.W. was removed from her mother in 2016, after S.S. overdosed in her daughter's presence. She overdosed again in January 2017, illegally obtained narcotics in the summer of 2017, and was incarcerated for about three months that winter due to a heroin relapse while she was on probation.
Waukesha County filed a termination of parental rights petition in April 2018, alleging that S.S. had failed to assume parental responsibility and that A.W. still was in need of protection. S.S. contested the petition.
In June 2019, S.S.'s lawyer filed a motion to adjourn a scheduled jury trial on the petition.
The petition said that S.S. was "'experiencing some extreme physical distress'” and explained that S.S. was suffering “''increased pain, bleeding to a point that required frequent changes of sanitary products to avoid bleeding through clothing, exhaustion and an inability to function which have led to missing multiple appointments to prepare for trial,'” Reilly wrote.
During a hearing on the matter, S.S. provided written documentation stating that she had ovarian cancer. The letter, purportedly from an emergency room nurse, said that S.S. was to be excused for four to six weeks due to the disease and related surgery. Carter granted the delay.
In July, the social worker assigned to the case filed a memo stating that S.S. refused to sign a release allowing her condition to be verified. S.S. said during a court hearing that she had privacy concerns and was protected by federal law.
Carter found the court had an interest in confirming the truthfulness of her representations and ordered her to sign the release.
Staff at Waukesha Memorial Hospital "denied writing the medical excuse that S.S. presented to the court, denied diagnosing S.S. with ovarian cancer, and indicated that they had no record of S.S. being diagnosed or treated for ovarian cancer at their clinic," Reilly wrote.
S.S.'s lawyer later expressed concern that her client was "making use of me to defraud the court," Reilly said.
S.S. never denied the allegations that she faked the medical records and lied about it.
The county Department of Health and Human Services sought a default judgment and a finding that there were grounds to terminate S.S.'s parental rights.
Carter granted the request. S.S.'s "conduct is the epitome of bad faith and egregious conduct…." he said. "What (S.S.) did here was a calculated, planned effort on her part to make a false representation to her attorney knowing that her attorney would communicate that information to the Court, then follow it through with further fabrication and falsification."
The court later found, at a separate hearing, that it was in A.W.'s best interests to terminate S.S.'s parental rights.
S.S. appealed, arguing that the law does not give the court the right to terminate her parental rights because Carter did not specifically find that she violated a court order.
"As the circuit court acknowledged, S.S. presented no evidence in the record to suggest that perhaps a misunderstanding occurred....." Reilly wrote. "The purpose of S.S.’s actions appears to be to manipulate the court’s calendar and avoid the jury trial on the grounds phase of the TPR proceeding."
The actions of S.S. were "egregious and constitute bad faith....Under the circumstances and given the court’s inherent authority to sanction parties for litigation misconduct, we see no error, he said.
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