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In Re E.j.

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 6, 1979.

IN RE E.J., A MINOR. — (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

E.J., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Morgan County; the Hon. JOHN B. WRIGHT, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This minor was found to be delinquent, was adjudicated a ward of the court, and committed to the Department of Corrections on July 15, 1976.

The commitment order was not acted upon or executed until March 1979-2 years and 9 months later.

We reverse and remand for a new dispositional hearing.

Three issues are raised in this appeal: (1) Whether the trial court abused its discretion in adjudicating the minor a ward of the court; (2) whether his commitment to the Department of Corrections was an abuse of discretion; and (3) whether it was error to direct execution of the 1976 dispositional order without first appointing counsel and conducting a new dispositional hearing. The nature of these issues requires a fairly detailed statement of facts.

The petition for adjudication of wardship alleged that E.J. was a delinquent by virtue of the fact that he committed a burglary at an elementary school in Jacksonville and that it was in the best interests of the minor and the public that he be adjudicated a ward of the court.

At the adjudicatory hearing, the principal of the elementary school testified that a number of other individuals were involved in the break-in and that they implicated E.J. Officials from the school met with parents of the youths and — except for E.J. — it was decided that the problem could be resolved within the school. The law authorities would not be notified if the children engaged in a school work-study program. The school officials indicated that the same arrangement would not be extended to E.J., however, because of his age and other factors. While parents of some of the individuals began to pay for the damage caused by the youths, E.J.'s parents made no such payment nor did they respond to a registered letter from the school in regard to payment. At a meeting with school officials, however, E.J.'s mother had indicated that restitution would be made.

The principal testified that an office door was jimmied open and destroyed. A door to a supply room received the same type of damage and bolts were broken from a safe and its entire turning mechanism removed. Supplies were strewn throughout the school, the soda machine was vandalized, and desks in various classrooms were rifled. A stopwatch, cassette recorders, and keys were taken, as well as funds that teachers had been collecting for various functions. When school officials attempted to talk to E.J. after the incident, he was "belligerent," "mouthy," "indignant," and showed no cooperation. The total damage at the school was estimated at approximately $1,100.

The principal of the school where E.J. was enrolled testified that E.J. was retained in the seventh grade because he did not attend school. There had been slight attendance in the first quarter but a complete absence of attendance during the second and third quarters. (There was, however, some improvement in E.J.'s attendance after the burglary incident.)

A youth who was present at the elementary school when the break-in occurred testified that E.J. was also present. Another youth testified that E.J. took numerous tapes, three tape players, and obtained a crowbar which several of the youths used in an attempt to open the safe.

At the conclusion of the adjudicatory hearing, the court announced that it was going to allow the petition, found E.J. delinquent under the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 37, par. 701-1 et seq.) and adjudicated him a ward of the court. The court then referred the matter to the probation office for investigation. A written order, filed the same date, found E.J. to be delinquent and that it was in the best interests of the minor and the public that he be made a ward of the court, and it was so ordered.

At the dispositional hearing on July 15, 1976, the court noted that the report of investigation had been presented, examined, and considered by the court. On the basis of this report, the trial judge felt that it was in the best interests of the minor and the community that he be committed to the Department of Corrections and ordered accordingly. The court then told E.J. that it was hopeful that he would cooperate with the personnel at the Department of Corrections. He was released to the custody of his parents, but was told to be prepared, possibly the next day, to have someone pick him up to take him to the Department of Corrections.

A written dispositional order was filed the same date. It found that placement under section 5-7 of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 37, par. 705-7) would not serve the best interests of the minor and the public and that the parents were unfit, unable, or unwilling to care for, protect, train, or discipline the minor. Judge Wright ordered that he be committed to the Department of Corrections.

For reasons not reflected in the record, the commitment order of July 15, 1976, was not executed. It was not until March 22, 1979, that E.J. was arrested and brought before Judge Seator. At that time he stated that he was James Hayes of Springfield. The State then called the Jacksonville police officer who had arrested the minor. The officer initially testified that he arrested E.J. on an outstanding warrant issued to his office on February 2, 1977, for E.J.'s failure to appear for commitment to the Department of Corrections. He identified the person in court as E.J. The officer later, in ...


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