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In Re Westland

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 30, 1976.

IN RE PAMELA WESTLAND ET AL., MINORS. — (CARL KOERNER, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

MARY WESTLAND, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. CARL A. LUND, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

We must reverse, remand.

The mother of the five minors involved herein, Mary Westland, is the respondent. She appeals from orders of the trial court adjudging her five minor children to be dependent as defined by section 2-5 of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 37, par. 702-5), adjudging them wards of the court, committing them to the custody and guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services and authorizing the guardianship administrator of that agency to consent to their adoption.

Mrs. Westland raises the following questions in this court: (1) Did the trial court err in allowing her psychiatrist to testify over the objection that the relationship was privileged? (2) Was there sufficient evidence to support the finding of dependency? and (3) Were Mrs. Westland's parental rights properly terminated? The petitioner has cross-appealed and argues that the court erred in limiting testimony by Myrna Barney and Mary Pope on the ground that their testimony was prohibited by the social worker privilege.

The facts are neither complicated nor lengthy. Petitions were filed alleging that Mary Westland's five minor children were neglected and dependent. At the hearing on the petitions, testimony was given by Mary, her psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse and the natural father of one of the children. Dr. Robert Talbert, Mary's treating psychiatrist, testified that he had treated her while she was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in 1972 and 1973, and again in September and October, 1975. He diagnosed her as an "undifferentiated schizophrenic" who, as of November 1975, was unable to care for herself and was prescribed large daily doses of Thorazine. In fact, he did not expect Mary ever to completely recover. All of Dr. Talbert's testimony was given over the objection that it was subject to the patient-psychiatrist privilege.

Myrna Barney, who had been a nurse on the psychiatric ward, testified to Mary's conduct during several of the hospitalizations. The trial court prohibited testimony concerning contact with Mrs. Westland while Mrs. Barney was a sustaining care worker with the Mental Health Department upon the ground that such testimony was protected by the statutory social worker's privilege. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 5320.) For the same reason the court prohibited testimony by Mary Pope, a home care worker employed by the Department of Children and Family Services.

Mrs. Westland testified that, at the time of the hearing, she had been released from the hospital and was residing in a shelter care home. It is apparent from the record that she had some difficulty in recalling the names of the fathers of the children, and the birthdates of some of the children. She testified to her desire to provide a home for all her children and her concern for them.

Because of our resolution of the issues we need not present the testimony in any further detail.

I

The first issue is whether the trial court erroneously permitted the psychiatrist, Dr. Talbert, to testify. This contention is based on the statutory psychiatrist-patient privilege which states:

"In civil and criminal cases, in proceedings preliminary thereto, and in legislative and administrative proceedings, a patient or his authorized representative and a psychiatrist or his authorized representative have the privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent a witness from disclosing, communications relating to diagnosis or treatment of the patient's mental condition between patient and psychiatrist * * *." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 51, par. 5.2.

The statute proceeds to then list four exceptions to the privilege, which, it is conceded, are not involved here. Mrs. Westland argues that the statute clearly covers the situation at bar and therefore it was error to have admitted the psychiatrist's testimony. But the respondent argues that, for policy reasons, the statute should not be so read.

Our first task appears to be to zero in on the meaning of the critical words, "communication relating to diagnosis or treatment." If the words cover only verbal statements made by Mrs. Westland, then the majority of Dr. Talbert's testimony was not covered by the privilege. It is both informative and helpful to compare other privilege statutes to this one.

The marital privilege statute also speaks of "communication":

"* * * [N]either may testify as to any communication or admission made by either of them to the other or as to any conversation between them during coverture * * ...


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