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05/21/87 John C. Lael Et Al., v. John Christopher Warga Et

May 21, 1987





508 N.E.2d 1095, 155 Ill. App. 3d 1005, 108 Ill. Dec. 518 1987.IL.656

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Morgan County; the Hon. Gordon D. Seator, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. GREEN, J., concurs. JUSTICE McCULLOUGH, Dissenting.


Petitioners John C. Lael and Michelle Ronae Lael (petitioners) filed a petition for adoption in the Morgan County circuit court on August 5, 1985. The Laels sought to have Mrs. Lael's former husband, John Edward Warga (respondent), declared an unfit parent and to adopt the two children born of the marriage of Mrs. Lael and respondent Warga. The circuit court found respondent Warga was not an unfit parent and dismissed the petition for adoption. Petitioners appeal from that order.

The only issue raised on appeal is whether the circuit court erred in finding Warga was not a "habitual drunkard" such as would make him an unfit parent pursuant to section 1(k) of "An Act in relation to the adoption of persons, and to repeal an act therein named" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 1501(k)). Because the weight of the evidence is at issue, we must outline the pertinent testimony in some detail.

Respondent John Warga first took the stand as an adverse witness. Warga testified he was 41 at the time of the hearing and had been drinking beer since he was 16 years old. From the time of his marriage to Michelle Lael in 1973 until the time the petition was filed in August 1985, he had consumed beer daily. Warga admitted to suffering blackouts during alcohol usage, but stated the last such blackout had been in August 1983. Warga denied he consumed an average of 12 cans of beer per day as alleged by his former wife. When asked to estimate the volume of beer he consumed, Warga replied, "I don't count them, so I really don't know. There's sometime [ sic ] I only have five or six." Warga elaborated that whether he had 5 to 6 cans of beer as opposed to "10 or 12" depended upon whether he was working. Warga further testified that prior to leaving his job as a pharmacist at the Lincoln Square Healthmart in September 1984, he would consume beer at his place of business on a daily basis. Warga explained he "might have one before I went home, after, the door was locked." Warga stated he had never sought treatment or education for an alcohol problem. Warga admitted that during his marriage he had a special refrigerator stocked with beer in his bedroom and then other locations thereafter.

Warga also testified concerning various altercations with his step-children. On March 15, 1985, Warga testified to a confrontation with his stepdaughter, Kimberly Fulfer, during which she struck him with a telephone. Warga testified he had consumed three or four cans of beer prior to this incident. Warga also testified concerning a confrontation with stepson David Fulfer in mid-July 1985. A dispute apparently arose as to whether Fulfer should turn off the television and go to bed. Warga stated he struck David Fulfer during this incident, but noted that Fulfer was armed with a metal fireplace poker. Warga testified he had consumed seven or eight cans of beer prior to this incident, but did not feel he was intoxicated.

Petitioner Michelle Lael testified to her former husband's alcohol consumption during their marriage, which was ended in August 1983. Lael testified that Warga drank daily during their marriage, averaging 12 cans of beer per day, while consuming up to 1 1/2 cases (36 cans) on the alternate weekends when he was not working. She estimated her husband was intoxicated three times per week during their marriage. Mrs. Lael also recounted several incidents over a period of several years which resulted from excessive drinking by her husband.

Charitie Ann McGuire, Mrs. Lael's sister-in-law, testified she was a frequent visitor to the Warga household prior to the Warga's divorce. McGuire estimated that she was in the Warga home two or three times per week prior to the divorce, as well as working at the establishment where John Warga was employed. McGuire testified to seeing John Warga drink 12 cans of beer after work approximately one time per week. On other occasions during an average week, she observed Warga consume at least a six-pack of beer. McGuire testified she had seen Warga drink himself into a daze at parties, but that he was not drunk to the point of falling down. She estimated she saw Warga under the influence of alcohol one or two times per week at the Warga's house prior to the 1983 divorce.

John Michael McGuire, Michelle Lael's brother, testified he was in the Warga home three or four times per week prior to the divorce. McGuire observed Warga drink 6 to 12 cans of beer during these visits to the home. McGuire estimated he saw John Warga under the influence of alcohol approximately three times per week until 1983. He described John Warga as slurring his speech and staggering when he walked.

Kimberly Fulfer, John Warga's stepdaughter, testified she lived primarily with her mother and Warga until August 1985. She stated Warga drank beer every day when she lived with him, starting to drink around noon and continuing until retiring at midnight.

Stepson David Fulfer testified he lived with his mother and John Warga until July 1985. He testified that during that period, John Warga drank daily from approximately 9:30 a.m. until going to bed. Fulfer estimated Warga consumed a case of beer daily.

Julia Warga, John Warga's wife, testified on his behalf. She did not estimate the frequency or amount of John Warga's alcohol consumption, but stated she did not believe her husband spent an excessive amount of money on beer.

Sheryl Johnson testified as an expert witness, describing her position as "education program coordinator at Jacksonville Area Council on Alcoholism." She testified she had been doing alcohol counselling since 1978 and was licensed by the Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and the Illinois Alcohol and Other Addictions Certification Board. She noted that to be licensed as an alcohol counselor, one must have completed two years of college, have four years of work experience in the alcohol and drug field, and two years of supervised alcohol assessment experience. Johnson testified her agency conducts 30 to 40 assessments each month, including assessment of court-referred DUI offenders. Although Johnson believed herself qualified to ...

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