Dr. Ronald Federici: Noted Expert Witness

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







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


Argued at Alexandria, Virginia










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


MAY 9, 2000












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.




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




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






“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




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




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.




* 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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