Iowa Supreme Court says statutory limitations on right to counsel are invalid

01/01/2014, Legislation, Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Birth Parents

In response to the Iowa Supreme Court's decision in In re S.A.J.B., 679 N.W.2d 645, 648 (Iowa 2004) (finding that statutory scheme of denying counsel in adoption cases while granting it in state-initiated terminations violated equal protection), the legislature amended the adoption statute. Iowa Code § 600A.6A now says that in a Chapter 600A petition to terminate parental rights, "the parent identified in the petition shall have the right to counsel in connection with all subsequent hearings and proceedings" and that "[i]f the parent [identified in the petition] desires but is financially unable to employ counsel, the court, following an in-court colloquy, shall appoint counsel for the person" provided certain criteria are met.


At one time, the legislature specified criteria that parents had to meet, such as difficulty in presenting the case pro se.  However, in Crowell v. State Public Defender, 845 N.W.2d 676 (Iowa 2014), the Court held that the passage of Iowa Code § 600A.6A did not affect its constitutional ruling in S.A.J.B., and that all parents are still entitled to appointed counsel in private termination proceedings.  The court rejected the state's call to overrule S.A.J.B. or find that the statute satisfied constitutional requirements. The limiting criteria were subsequently removed from the statute.