Opinion:In the Matter of I.T.S., 2021 OK 38
Subject matter:Indian Child Welfare Act; Deprived Children and Termination of Parental Rights
Date Decided:June 22, 2021
Trial Court:Bryan County District Court
Route to this Court:Cert from an unpublished opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals
Facts:The Appellant stipulated to the State’s deprived petition, and the trial court adjudicated the children deprived. Following the disposition hearing held the same day, the trial court’s order states, in relevant part, “Counsel discharged, subject to re-app[ointmen]t.” Over two years later and following a failed trial reunification of the Appellant with her children, the State commenced termination proceedings. At the outset of the termination proceedings, the trial court granted Appellant’s second application for court-appointed counsel. The jury rendered separate verdicts finding that termination of Appellant’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest because she had failed to correct the conditions that led to the children’s deprived status. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed.
Standard of Review:De novo review of statutory interpretation. 
Analysis:At issue before the Court is whether or not the trial court erred under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by discharging Appellant’s court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without legal representation until counsel was reappointed over two years later following the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights.

“In Oklahoma, there are three legal prerequisites in an action terminating parental rights based on the sole ground submitted to the jury in this matter–10A O.S.Supp.2015 § 1-4-904(B)(5) (failure to correct the conditions that lead to the children’s deprived adjudication): 1) a deprived child adjudication order identifying the specific conditions that caused the children’s deprived status, 2) a court-ordered service plan for the parents directed to help them correct the specific conditions within the statutory period, and 3) the parents’ failure to correct the specific conditions that led to their children’s deprived status. Mother was without counsel during proceedings related to the administration of her court-ordered service plan. Thus, the action terminating Mother’s parental rights was taken in violation § 1912(b). Pursuant to § 1914, we must invalidate the trial court’s order terminating Mother’s parental rights, as well as any proceedings prior and necessary to termination that did not comport with § 1912(b).”
Outcome:The Court of Civil Appeals’ opinion is vacated. The district court’s judgment is reversed and the cause remanded.
Vote:8-0. Opinion by Rowe, J. Concur: Darby, C.J., Winchester, Edmondson, Combs, and Gurich, JJ. Concur in result: Kane, V.C.J., and Kauger, J.
Other: While apparently raised for the first time on appeal, the issue of Appellant’s rights to counsel under the ICWA is one of public law, which the Court states it may resolve on a legal theory that was not tendered below and regardless of whether it was raised or briefed. Also, the Court noted that two of the three children at issue reached the age of majority during pendency of the appeal and the third was soon to reach the age of majority. However, the Court ruled on the matter under exceptions to the mootness doctrine.