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Rudolph v. City of Newport News Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 20, 2016

ARETE N. RUDOLPH
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES ARETE N. RUDOLPH
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES ARETE NICOLE RUDOLPH
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES ARETE NICOLE RUDOLPH
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES JUNIOUS PERNELL BARTLETT
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES JUNIOUS P. BARTLETT
v.
CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS C. Peter Tench, Judge

          Clara P. Swanson for appellant Arete N. Rudolph.

          Nathaniel J. Webb, III (Polly Chong, on brief), for appellant Junious Pernell Bartlett in Record No. 1826-15-1.

          Nathaniel J. Webb, III, for appellant Junious P. Bartlett in Record No. 0524-16-1.

          Pamela P. Bates, Assistant City Attorney (Michael P. Jones, Guardian ad litem for the minor children, on briefs), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Beales, Chafin and Senior Judge Bumgardner Argued at Chesapeake, Virginia

          OPINION

          RANDOLPH A. BEALES JUDGE

         In these appeals, which we now consolidate, Arete N. Rudolph and Junious Pernell Bartlett ("appellants") assert that certain pleadings filed in the juvenile and domestic relations district court ("the JDR court") were defective and constituted the unauthorized practice of law. "[D]ue to the defective and illegal nature of the pleadings" in the JDR court, appellants contend that these matters were ineligible for appeal to the circuit court because both courts lacked active jurisdiction to adjudicate these matters on the merits. For the following reasons, we affirm the circuit court.

         I. Background

         These matters were initiated by the filing of two emergency removal petitions for R.B.B. (born July 1, 2013) and R.J.B. (born November 12, 2010)[1] in the JDR court on October 29, 2013. The petitions alleged that, on October 29, 2013, the minor children were "in an abused and or neglected condition" in accordance with Code § 16.1-241. Sheila Bonardy, a social worker employed by the Newport News Department of Human Services ("DHS"), affirmed and signed the emergency removal petitions before the Newport News Court Services Intake Officer. Bonardy is not an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth. The Intake Officer then processed the petitions and filed them with the JDR court.

         The JDR court entered emergency removal orders for the removal of each child on October 30, 2013, which temporarily placed both children in foster care. After a three-hour hearing on December 4, 2013, the JDR court entered a dispositional order finding that R.B.B. and R.J.B. were abused and neglected children and transferred the children into the custody of DHS. A foster care plan for the children was created with the goal of returning the children to their parents or of placing them with relatives.

         On May 13, 2014, the JDR court entered a foster care review order approving of the foster care plan. On September 2, 2014, the JDR court entered a permanency planning order that maintained the goal of returning the children to their home. On January 27, 2015, the JDR court disapproved of the foster care plan containing the permanent goal of the placement of the children with a relative. On February 24, 2015, the JDR court entered its final permanency planning orders approving of the foster care plan of adoption.

         Appellants filed a notice of appeal to the circuit court of the final permanency planning orders on February 24, 2015. On September 21, 2015, appellants filed a motion to dismiss in the circuit court. Appellants alleged that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because DHS's emergency removal and permanency planning petitions were not signed by an attorney. After a hearing on the motion to dismiss on October 26, 2015, the circuit court found that it had both subject matter jurisdiction and active jurisdiction to hear the case. On November 2, 2015, the circuit court entered its permanency planning order affirming the JDR court's permanency planning order for adoption.

         On February 10, 2015, Candace Bolden, a nonattorney employee of DHS, signed petitions for the termination of appellants' residual parental rights. Bolden, who is not licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth, signed the petitions before the Newport News Court Services Intake Officer. The Intake Officer then processed the petitions and filed them with the JDR court. After a hearing on ...


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