Dr. Ronald Federici: Noted Expert Witness

Here is an example of expert testimony by Dr. Ronald Federici:

COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

 

 

 

 

 

Present:  Judge Annunziata, Senior Judge Duff and Judge Clements*

 

Argued at Alexandria, Virginia

 

 

 

 

 

SHOHREH GHASEM

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION** BY

 

v.      Record No. 2537-99-4    JUDGE CHARLES H. DUFF

 

MAY 9, 2000

 

FAIRFAX COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF

 

FAMILY SERVICES

 

 

 

 

 

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY

 

Arthur B. Vieregg, Jr., Judge

 

 

 

(Charles J. Swedish, on brief), for

 

appellant.  Appellant submitting on brief.

 

 

 

Thomas P. Sotelo, Substitute Assistant County

 

Attorney (Keegan & Sotelo, PLC, on brief),

 

for appellee.

 

 

 

(W. Kip Wood, on brief), Guardian ad litem

 

for Saman Ghasem, an infant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shohreh Ghasem (“appellant”) appeals the decision terminating

 

her parental rights to Saman Ghasem (“Saman”).  The issue on

 

appeal is whether the evidence was sufficient to meet the clear

 

and convincing standard required for termination of parental

 

rights under Code  16.1-283(C)(2).  We find that the evidence was

 

sufficient and affirm the trial judge’s ruling.

 

FACTS

 

Saman was born on December 11, 1989.  In September of 1995,

 

the Fairfax County Department of Family Services (“the

 

Department”) removed Saman, then four years old, from appellant’s

 

care because appellant left Saman unsupervised and locked out of

 

their hotel room for seven hours.  Saman was returned to

 

appellant’s care, but removed again on July 29, 1996 because

 

appellant violated a preliminary protective order which prohibited

 

her having contact with a friend who had physically abused

 

appellant’s other son.  The Department later returned Saman to

 

appellant.

 

On December 11, 1997, appellant signed a service agreement

 

with the Department stating Saman would not be left alone or

 

unsupervised at any time or for any reason.  The Department

 

explained to appellant that Saman suffered from mild mental

 

retardation and had special needs.  Appellant’s therapist also

 

explained the agreement to her.  On that same day, a social worker

 

for the Department telephoned the Ghasem home and found Saman was

 

there alone.  The Department removed him from appellant’s care

 

again on December 11, 1997.

 

Appellant signed additional service agreements with the

 

Department on December 24, 1997, and January 9, 1998, stating she

 

would not leave Saman alone or unsupervised for any amount of time

 

or for any reason.  Since 1995, the Department provided the family

 

with various services, interventions and financial assistance,

 

including:  protective supervision of Saman and his brother;

 

coordination with the mental health center and Multicultural

 

Clinical Center for individual and home based therapy; and

 

coordination with Saman’s school and health clinics.  The Center

 

for Multicultural Human Services had worked with the family

 

“intensively” since April of 1997, providing individual therapy,

 

parental education, nutritional education, and social skills

 

training for appellant two times per week.  Despite the repeated

 

attempts to educate appellant concerning Saman’s special needs,

 

and despite attending parenting classes, appellant continued to

 

deny Saman had any problems.  Evidence was presented that

 

appellant suffers from depression and a brain dysfunction.

 

Appellant again left Saman alone for about one hour and

 

fifteen minutes on January 29, 1998 when she was late returning

 

from a doctor’s appointment.  The Department removed Saman from

 

her care and initiated proceedings to terminate her residual

 

parental rights to Saman.

 

On July 28, 1999, a hearing was held in circuit court

 

concerning the termination of appellant’s parental rights.  At the

 

hearing, the deposition of Dr. Ronald Federici, a clinical

 

neuropsychologist, was admitted into evidence.  Dr. Federici

 

conducted a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of Saman

 

dated January 21, 1999.  He testified Saman, who at the time of

 

the evaluation was nine years old, suffers from profound cognitive

 

and learning disabilities, speech, language and hearing

 

deficiencies, mild mental retardation, brain dysfunction and

 

various mental and emotional disorders.  He is physically small

 

for his age, and his mental development is equivalent to that of a

 

five year old.  Saman also suffers from a reactive attachment

 

disorder and fear of abandonment.  Dr. Federici stated that Saman

 

will likely require adult supervision and a controlled environment

 

into adulthood.  Saman’s prospect for future development is very

 

poor.  Dr. Federici further opined that if Saman is to reach his

 

developmental potential, he requires a parental figure with

 

significant dedication and intelligence to address his needs.

 

On September 27, 1999, the trial judge entered an order

 

terminating appellant’s residual parental rights.  The trial judge

 

found that it was in the best interest of Saman to “live in a

 

controlled environment with adults who understand and can meet his

 

special needs.”  He also found the Department clearly and

 

convincingly proved the requirements of Code  16.1-283(C)(2),

 

stating that, despite attending parenting classes and receiving a

 

“host of other services,” appellant’s “inherent disabilities

 

demonstrate that she is unable to remedy the conditions which led

 

to Saman’s placement in foster care.”  Appellant appeals that

 

order.

 

ANALYSIS

 

“When addressing matters concerning a child, including the

 

termination of a parent’s residual parental rights, the paramount

 

consideration of a trial court is the child’s best interests.”

 

Logan v. Fairfax County Dep’t of Human Dev., 13 Va. App. 123, 128,

 

409 S.E.2d 460, 463 (1991).  Where the trial judge hears the

 

evidence ore tenus, his decision is entitled to great weight and

 

will not be disturbed on appeal unless plainly wrong or without

 

evidence to support it.  See Lowe v. Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 231

 

Va. 277, 282, 343 S.E.2d 70, 73 (1986).

 

Code  16.1-283(C)(2) provides that the parental rights of a

 

child placed in foster care may be terminated if the court finds

 

by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interests

 

of the child and that

 

[t]he parent . . ., without good cause,

 

[has] been unwilling or unable within a

 

reasonable period of time not to exceed

 

twelve months from the date the child was

 

placed in foster care to remedy

 

substantially the conditions which led to or

 

required continuation of the child’s foster

 

care placement, notwithstanding the

 

reasonable and appropriate efforts of

 

social, medical, mental health or other

 

rehabilitative agencies to such end.  Proof

 

that the parent . . . without good cause,

 

[has] failed or been unable to make

 

substantial progress towards elimination of

 

the conditions which led to or required

 

continuation of the child’s foster care

 

placement in accordance with [the parent’s]

 

obligations under and within the time limits

 

or goals set forth in a foster care plan

 

filed with the court . . . shall constitute

 

prima facie evidence of this condition.

 

“‘[T]he rights of parents may not be lightly severed but are

 

to be respected if at all consonant with the best interests of the

 

child.'”  Ward v. Faw, 219 Va. 1120, 1124, 253 S.E.2d 658, 661

 

(1979) (citation omitted).  The termination of parental rights is

 

a grave, drastic, and irreversible action.  “When a court orders

 

termination of parental rights, the ties between the parent and

 

child are severed forever and the parent becomes ‘a legal stranger

 

to the child.'”  Lowe, 231 Va. at 280, 343 S.E.2d at 72 (citation

 

omitted).

 

Appellant contends that she was first diagnosed as mildly

 

mentally retarded after Saman was removed from her home on January

 

29, 1998.  She asserts that this condition led to the child’s

 

foster care placement and that, after January 29, 1998, the

 

Department has offered her no services in an effort to remedy this

 

condition or any other condition which led to Saman’s foster care

 

placement.  However, the record indicates that appellant’s

 

psychological condition had been an issue throughout the

 

Department’s period of involvement with the family, not just on or

 

after January 29, 1998.  Moreover, appellant’s diagnosis of mild

 

mental retardation was not the sole condition which led to Saman’s

 

placement in a foster home.  The evidence proved that Saman had

 

numerous physical, mental, and emotional special needs that were

 

not being met under appellant’s care.  Furthermore, appellant

 

repeatedly left the child alone and unsupervised despite the

 

Department’s continuing attempts to advise her of his special

 

needs.

 

In addition, the Department worked with the family and

 

offered numerous counseling and medical services to the family

 

since 1995, but noted little progress or improvement in

 

appellant’s parenting skills.  For example, appellant received a

 

psychological examination in January 1997, parental/child

 

interaction assessments in March 1997 and February 1998, and

 

parenting classes.  The December 14, 1998 Foster Care Service Plan

 

states that appellant received psychiatric medication from October

 

1995 to December 14, 1998.  The plan also states that despite

 

“intensive services and interventions” appellant did not make

 

“much progress and continually engages in the behavior that

 

resulted in Saman going into the custody of the Department in

 

September 1995.”

 

In addition, appellant received a neuropsychological

 

evaluation in February 1998.  The Foster Care Service Plan dated

 

March 3, 1998 indicates that appellant was diagnosed as suffering

 

from “an emotional condition” and “brain dysfunction.”  Her

 

emotional development was diagnosed as that of a child and

 

characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder.  The report

 

further stated she “displays significant cognitive weaknesses

 

which represent impairment of several brain areas which are

 

generally impervious to change.”  At the time of the report, and

 

as stated above, appellant had received “intensive home-based

 

services” for over two years, but she continued to leave Saman

 

unsupervised, and she continued to deny that he had any special

 

developmental, cognitive, mental or physical needs or problems.

 

Thus, the record indicates that the Department was aware from

 

the time it first became involved with the family that appellant’s

 

mental health status was an issue in the matter.  Moreover, the

 

Department was also aware of and concerned for the mental,

 

physical, and emotional well being of Saman, a child with numerous

 

special needs.  The record is replete with instances of

 

“reasonable and appropriate efforts” made by the Department and

 

other agencies over a period of several years in an attempt to

 

work with appellant and remedy the numerous conditions which led

 

to the foster care placement of Saman.  However, the record also

 

indicates that appellant made very little, if any, progress in

 

remedying these conditions, notwithstanding the efforts of the

 

Department and other agencies.

 

Therefore, the record supports the trial judge’s finding that

 

the termination of appellant’s residual parental rights was in

 

Saman’s best interest and his finding that the Department

 

presented clear and convincing evidence to meet the requirements

 

of Code  16.1-283(C)(2).  Accordingly, we affirm the decision.

 

Affirmed.

 

* Judge Jean Harrison Clements took part in the

 

consideration of this case by designation pursuant to Code

 

17.1-400, recodifying Code  17-116.01.

 

 

 

** Pursuant to Code  17.1-413, recodifying Code

 

17-116.010, this opinion is not designated for publication.

 

 

 

Because we decide the evidence was sufficient to support

 

the trial judge’s holding, the point raised by appellee

 

regarding Code  16.1-283(B) is moot.

 

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Posted in adoption, Advocates for Children in Therapy, autism, Children in Therapy, dr. ron federici, Dr. Ronald Federici, expert testimony, expert witness, independent adoptions, independent russian adoption, independent ukrainian adoption, orphan, orphanage, private adoptions, private russian adoption, private ukrainian adoption, romania, romanian orphanage, ron federici, ronald federici, siret

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