ST. PAUL — A boy taken from his North Mankato parents was clearly starving and in poor health when he was finally taken to a hospital just over a year ago, but three Minnesota Court of Appeals judges will now decide whether the harm done was so horrendous that the couple's three other children should be removed from their home.
Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer argued in favor of that during oral arguments Thursday before appeals court judges John P. Smith, Matthew E. Johnson and David Minge. It wasn't an easy job, as Johnson pointed out, because there is no case law (previously published opinions) that address parental rights being taken away for not adequately feeding a child.
After a trial earlier this year, Nicollet County District Court Judge Todd Westphal ruled in April that the adopted boy, who is now 9 years old, should be permanently removed from the home of Russell and Mona Hauer. His ruling also allowed the couple's three other children to stay with them under county supervision. Their oldest child is their biological child and the two other children are the younger siblings of the boy who has been removed from their home.
Fischer appealed the ruling, arguing that the harm done to the boy was so egregious that all of the children should be removed. A portion of the state statute that addresses the termination of parental rights says that if any child in the home experiences "egregious harm" and that harm shows a lack of regard for the child by a parent, no children should be allowed to live with that parent.
Fischer also said Westphal found that the other children were the victims of emotional harm, so they also should be removed from the Hauer home for that reason.
"My point is this isn't a case where one child was beaten and the other children weren't," Fischer said after the hearing. "Here, the judge made findings that the other children were emotionally harmed. If the court is troubled by the fact that he is a targeted child, I wanted to show that they did suffer emotional harm."