Bedford judge to hold new hearing

Court ruled decision to place girl without father’s input ’unacceptable’

A Bedford County judge has been ordered to hold a new dependency hearing for a child who was removed from his mother’s care because of “deplorable” home conditions after the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled the natural father was not properly notified of the original hearing last August.

A three-judge panel concluded that Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling failed to comply with the notice requirements after the father, through his Altoona attorney, Matthew R. Dombrosky, appealed the judge’s ruling that found the child dependent and placed her with the maternal grandparents.

The Superior Court strives where feasible to maintain a child with a parent, and according to the court’s opinion issued Thursday afternoon, the natural father of the youngster was willing to take custody.

The dependency hearing was scheduled one day prior to the hearing date of Aug. 15.

The father, according to the opinion, was on vacation and did not receive the legally required notification of the hearing.

The rules, according to the Superior Court panel, require a seven-day notice and listed other procedures to be followed.

The judge may proceed with the hearing after a “showing of reasonable efforts to locate and notify all persons,” stated the panel that included Judges John T. Bender, Correale Stevens and Gene Strassburger.

The father had attended an Aug. 7 shelter care hearing for the child, who at the time was under the care of Bedford County Children and Youth.

“Father indicated he would not be able to return (the week of Aug. 10) but clearly indicated he wished to pursue custody of the child,” the Superior Court pointed out.

During the hearing, the attorney for Children and Youth stated she didn’t know if the natural father was aware of the hearing.

“Despite this admission … the lower court chose to adjudicate the child dependent and place her in maternal grandparents’ physical custody, without testimony,” the panel stated.

The record showed the judge, in response to regarding lack of notice to the father, stated, “Okay. So when he comes in he can complain.”

“This is in direct contravention of the aforementioned rules and is unacceptable,” the Superior Court said.

The judge’s decision finding the child dependent was vacated, and the case has been sent back to Bedford County for a new hearing “to make a comprehensive inquiry into whether child is without proper care or control, and if so, whether such care and control are immediately available.”

Children and Youth became involved with the child’s family, that included the mother, a stepfather and a sibling, in 2013 because of the condition of the home: which had little food; no electricity; no running water; poor personal hygiene; and domestic violence because of drug and alcohol abuse by mother and stepfather.

In March 2017, child welfare provided the family with a dumpster to clean out the garbage in the home, but it was never utilized, according to the court record.

Early last August, child welfare took action to declare the child dependent after sewage had backed up in the yard and the home once again had no electricity or running water.