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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Michelle L. was abandoned by her parents as a baby. Her grandmother sought help from the Tidwells, who eventually took full custody of her. However, because of Michelle’s behavioral problems, the Tidwells put her in a long-term residential psychological treatment facility for a year. She went into custody of the Department of Family and Protective Services at age 14, but ran away and got involved with drugs, prostitution and other crime. She was jailed occasionally. Michelle L. gave birth to A.J.L,, a boy, in 1998 when she was living in Kansas. The Kansas Child Protective Services removed the boy from Michelle’s custody in 1999, having observed three separate injuries to the child. The Kansas department eventually released A.J.L. to the Tidwells’ custody. The Tidwells, Michelle and A.J.L. moved to Denton soon thereafter, and by September 2000, DFPS began investigating more suspected abuse, including bite marks on A.J.L. DFPS removed A.J.L. from Michelle’s custody, then returned him in June 2001. Meanwhile, Michelle had given birth to C.R.L. in March 2001. DFPS again began investigating when bruises on the baby girl were found by a day-care worker. DFPS removed both children from Michelle’s custody in December 2001 and initiated termination proceedings. Within a year, Michelle’s parole had been revoked and she was incarcerated. The paternal grandparents of A.J.L., the Trevinos, intervened in the proceedings. So, too, did C.R.L.’s biological father, Bobby Wall. The Trevinos sought to be named joint managing conservators of A.J.L., and Wall asked to be named sole managing conservator of C.R.L. Both were allowed to make closing arguments at the jury trial, which Michelle objected to. The Tidwells both testified at the trial. They both testified to Michelle’s violent behavior, which frequently included biting, toward them, toward neighbors, and toward their daughter. They also spoke of two occasions where Michelle had threatened to kill them. A police officer testified to arresting Michelle for assault/family violence for severely biting a man’s arm. Another incident was described where Michelle ran into a girlfriend of hers with her car. Also at trial, a “play therapist,” Brigitte Iafrate, testified about her sessions of play therapy with A.J.L. She described how over 14 sessions, she used puppets to explore A.J.L.’s feelings. She described how, using the puppets, he demonstrated his desire to have a puppet representing a young boy protect a puppet representing a younger girl from a mother puppet. He showed Iafrate how the mother puppet would “pounce” on the girl puppet. Iafrate also described how when A.J.L. first came to her, he lacked spontaneity and unusually worried about order and cleanliness, as well as Iafrate’s opinion of him, for a boy his age. By the end of the sessions, however, A.J.L. appeared much more relaxed and happy. Iafrate attributed the change in his demeanor to the more stable environment of his foster home. The jury returned a verdict terminating Michelle’s parental rights, making findings of endangerment and conduct toward both children. HOLDING:Affirmed. Michelle first complains that neither the Trevinos nor Wall should have been allowed to make closing arguments. The court, however, confirms that Wall was a party to the suit as the biological father of C.R.L., and that once the trial court allowed them to intervene, the Trevinos were parties to the suit, also. Both filed pleadings and answers, and their positions remained consistent throughout trial. The court rejects Michelle’s argument that because the jury was only charged with respect to termination, not with respect to custody, they shouldn’t have been allowed to make closing arguments. The case Michelle relies on City of Houston v. Sam P. Wallace & Co., 585 S.W.2d 669 (Tex. 1979), which said parties without issues before a jury should not give closing arguments. The court distinguishes Wallace because that case involved settlement negotiations and the party was no longer a part of the suit; additionally, in that case, there was an unfair shift in the adversarial alignment of the parties at closing argument. The court next turns to Michelle’s objection to Iafrate’s testimony, which is based on Michelle’s argument that the testimony was scientifically unreliable under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Texas Rule of Evidence 702. Iafrate testified that she had been a licensed professional counselor in Texas since 1993. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M, a master’s degree in counselor education, with an emphasis on play therapy, from the University of North Texas, and had received special training and regularly attended continuing education seminars focusing on play therapy and techniques. She testified that play therapy was one of her areas of expertise and that she had worked with at least 100 preschool children. Though Iafrate may have been qualified as an expert in play therapy and her testimony was related to principles involved in the field of play therapy, the court points out that the trial court was also required to determine of play therapy is a legitimate field of expertise. Iafrate testified to the general acceptance of play therapy as a method for working with children. She knew of no studies challenging the therapy’s reliability, and case law around the country frequently relies on it. Based on this evidence, the court concludes that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that play therapy is a legitimate field of expertise. “Based upon Iafrate’s education, experience and training, her interaction and observations of children using play therapy, together with a total absence of any evidence to refute the validity of play therapy, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in qualifying Iafrate as an expert witness and allowing her to testify regarding her therapy sessions with A.J.L.” The court then upholds the factual and legal sufficiency of the evidence, as well as the jury’s finding of endangerment, both in terms of conduct and environment. OPINION:Livingston, J.; Livingston, Dauphinot and McCoy, JJ.

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