While 3rd District Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Lindsley should have allowed expert testimony from a child psychologist, excluding that evidence was a “harmless” error, the court said in its unanimous decision.
“I am just happy it’s really over now,” said Mattingly Foster. “It does give me security in the system.”
Both Lindsley and Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez, who presided over the case before recusing himself, ordered eight children returned to Mattingly Foster in 2005 after finding she had substantially complied with court orders.
Kristin Brewer, director of the Guardian ad Litem’s Office, appealed the decision to the state’s high court, arguing Lindsley had not applied the proper standard in deciding it was safe for the children to be returned home.
Brewer also challenged Lindsley’s decision to bar testimony by Doug Goldsmith, director of The Children’s Center; instead, the judge allowed Brewer to proffer the gist of Goldsmith’s testimony that Mattingly Foster needed to acknowledge past abuse.
The justices said that Lindsley should have allowed the psychologist to testify even though Brewer failed to give proper notice that she wanted to call him as a witness.
But the error was harmless, the court said, and did not violate the children’s due process rights because Goldsmith’s comments added to testimony offered at previous hearings.
The family was brought into juvenile court after a dispute between the parents and their two oldest daughters over ear piercing in February 2004. Those girls were removed from the home; the couple later voluntarily gave up their parental rights to them.
Eight other children removed from the home in October 2004; two boys were returned to Mattingly Foster after six months and the other children in August 2005, after 10 months in foster care. Lindsley closed the case in December.