OKLAHOMA CITY – Yesterday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 261 to allow courts to terminate the parental rights of anyone who, after being properly notified of their court date and without good cause, does not show up for their jury trial. The measure, by Sen. Ron Sharp, is an effort to hold individuals in parental rights’ cases more accountable and help save time for backlogged courts.
“When someone requests a jury trial to fight for their parental rights, they need to show up or let their attorney know they can’t make it. To not do so is disrespectful to their child, the court, jury and attorneys,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “Our courts are so backlogged with cases that they don’t have the time to spare on continuing a trial, which they are required to do under current law, for someone who obviously doesn’t care. This bill will ensure that courts aren’t tied up in further proceedings and that taxpayer money isn’t wasted.”
During the termination of parental rights, parents can request a trial by jury. If for some reason they can’t make it, they can let their attorney know and the trial will be rescheduled. However, courts are faced with situations where these parents do not show up and do not contact their attorney to provide a reason for their absence. Under current law, whether the parent shows up or not, the trial must continue at a cost to taxpayers.
SB 261 specifies that a parent who requests a jury trial and fails to appear, after proper notice and without good cause, or fails to instruct his or her attorney to proceed in absentia at the trial, will be deemed by the court to have waived the jury demand and will be adjudicated to have consented to the termination of his or her parental rights. The court may vacate such order, terminating parental rights pursuant to the procedures outlined in statute.
SB 261 now goes to the House for further consideration.