In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: K.K. and K.M.R., Parents – Case Nos. A20-1349, A20-1351: Winona County Health & Human Services filed a petition to terminate the parents’ rights to their child on June 1, 2020. Mother and the child were represented by counsel during the proceedings in the district court, including trial; father was self-represented at trial. At a pretrial hearing, the County asked the court to allow the child to testify outside the presence of the parents, including any attorneys; thus, the County proposed, the child would testify only in the presence of the judge and the appointed guardian ad litem. At the pretrial and during the trial, the parents asserted that there was no need to exclude the parents or their attorneys during the child’s testimony and that they needed to be present for the testimony, or at the very least to listen to that testimony. The district court allowed the child to testify before the judge (with a court reporter) and the guardian ad litem; the judge then summarized the child’s testimony for the attorneys; and the guardian ad litem was subject to cross examination on the child’s testimony.
The district court granted the County’s petition to terminate. The parents appealed, each challenging on appeal the district court’s decision to exclude them while the child testified. Relying on provisions in Minnesota Statutes § 260C.163 (2020), that allow a child’s testimony to be taken informally, and applying harmless error review, the court of appeals affirmed.
On appeal to the supreme court, the following issue is presented: did the district court err by allowing the child to testify outside the presence of the parents or their attorneys and before only the judge and the guardian ad litem. (Winona County)