The Second Department, reversing Family Court, determined Family Court should have reopened the neglect hearing when mother arrived just after summations:
The Family Court conducted a fact-finding hearing over the course of several days, during which the mother was present, and the maternal grandmother and a DSS caseworker testified. On the fifth day of the hearing, the mother was late in arriving to court because she allegedly was traveling by bus from Georgia to New York, and the bus was delayed. The mother’s counsel notified the court of the mother’s transportation issue, and of her intention to testify, and requested an adjournment. The court denied the adjournment request and directed that the hearing proceed as scheduled. The mother arrived shortly after summations, but the court did not reopen the hearing to afford the mother the opportunity to testify.
Following the hearing, the Family Court found that the mother neglected the child. …
A finding of neglect constitutes “a permanent and significant stigma” which might indirectly affect the mother’s status in future proceedings … . The Family Court has the authority to reopen a Family Court Act article 10 proceeding to allow a party to present additional testimony at a fact-finding hearing … .
Under the circumstances of this case, the Family Court should have exercised its discretion to reopen the fact-finding hearing to afford the mother the opportunity to present her case. Matter of Katie P.H. (Latoya M.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02265, Second Dept 4-9-20