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Court upholds termination

Inmate deemed unable to fulfill parental duties

A Pennsylvania appeals court has upheld the termination of an inmate’s parental rights because he has been unable to fulfill his responsibilities as a father and is unlikely to be in a position to do so for several years.

The state Superior Court last week relied heavily on an opinion written by Huntingdon County President Judge George N. Zanic, who last November found that it was in the best interests of a Huntingdon County 3-year-old to terminate the parental rights of her father.

He was in prison at the time of the child’s birth, and his earliest date for release is in 2026, when the child is 11 years old.

The termination was requested by the mother and the child’s stepfather.

Zanic found “(the child) has a stable, loving environment at the home of her mother, stepfather and stepsiblings. She is well taken care of.”

The Huntingdon judge stated it would not be in the best interests of the child to establish a relationship with her father “through the confines of an inmate visitation room. Nor do we believe sporadic contact with (the inmate dad) via mail and biweekly telephone calls serves any of (her) needs or interests.”

The judge explained that being in prison does not disqualify a person from resuming parental duties “as long as the parent will be released from incarceration quickly enough to permit the court to provide the child with timely permanency upon reunification.”

The father, who is not named in the Superior Court decision but who is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Albion, appealed Zanic’s findings.

The judge appointed Bellefonte attorney William Grey Tressler to represent the dad in the appeal.

The Superior Court opinion pointed out the father is serving a prison term of 11 to 25 years for third-degree murder.

The child was born five months after the father was jailed.

After the child’s birth, the father has held her only once and has not had the opportunity to perform any parental duties, according to the Superior Court opinion.

It noted he began sending cards and making phone contact, only after the termination petition was filed.

The father complained he was unable to make contact earlier because he didn’t know the whereabouts of the mother.

Zanic stated in his opinion, “We believe (the father) is genuine in his desire to be a parent and establish a relationship with the child, however his long-term incarceration prevents him from doing so.

“Despite whatever good intentions he may have, (the father) has never fulfilled any parental duties … never changed a diaper, bathed, fed or consoled her.”

The Superior Court opinion, written by Judge Susan Peikes Gantman called Zanic’s opinion “well-reasoned” and concluded, “father’s issues merit no relief.”

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