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12/21/87 In Re Gabriel Pronger

December 21, 1987



Illinois, Appellant, v.

Elizabeth M. Green, Appellee)

517 N.E.2d 1076, 118 Ill. 2d 512, 115 Ill. Dec. 390 1987.IL.1891

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County, the Hon. John R. DeLaMar, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE RYAN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE SIMON, specially Concurring.


This appeal arises from an order of the circuit court of Champaign County, which terminated the parental rights of respondent Elizabeth Green, a/k/a Michelle Pronger, and appointed the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as guardian of Gabriel Pronger, her son. On appeal, respondent challenged the circuit court's jurisdiction to terminate her parental rights, and the appellate court vacated the termination order for want of jurisdiction. (148 Ill. App. 3d 311.) We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal, and we now reverse.

The proceedings in this case date back to April 21, 1983, when an initial hearing was held on a petition for shelter care for Gabriel. At the hearing the circuit court appointed the Champaign County public defender as attorney and guardian ad litem for Gabriel. The respondent appeared personally and was represented by counsel, and all parties waived the presence of Gabriel, who was five months old at the time. An investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services testified that she had investigated a neighbor's report that Gabriel had been left unattended for approximately three hours on April 13, 1983. The investigator testified that she interviewed the respondent regarding the incident on April 14 and was told by the respondent that the child had been left in the care of another person. The investigator also testified that respondent's home had a strong offensive odor, that the kitchen was dirty and full of dishes, and that respondent was washing a dirty diaper in the sink with a toothbrush.

Based on the evidence adduced at this hearing, the circuit court found that there was an immediate need for shelter care for Gabriel. However, the court vacated the shelter care order on the condition that respondent would cooperate with the DCFS. At a subsequent hearing on May 26, 1983, the court heard evidence that respondent was cooperating with the DCFS. The parties agreed to a six-month continuance under court supervision, and the cause was continued until November 29, 1983.

A supplemental petition was filed on July 7, 1983, alleging that Gabriel was not receiving proper care due to the mental illness of respondent. At a hearing held on the same day, it was determined that Gabriel was in the custody of officials in Kentucky. The court ordered shelter care and appointed the DCFS temporary custodian of Gabriel for the purpose of securing his return to Illinois. At a subsequent hearing, respondent testified that she had taken Gabriel to a commune in Tennessee and then to Kentucky because a woman whom she had met informally had told respondent that she had overheard two women talking about taking Gabriel away and locking respondent up.

On December 1, 1983, an adjudicatory hearing was held on a second supplemental petition alleging that Gabriel was neglected. A former neighbor testified that respondent's apartment was messy and frequently smelled of dirty diapers. She also testified about the incident where Gabriel was left at home alone for several hours. Psychiatrist Arthur R. Traugott testified regarding his examination of respondent at his office on October 17, 1983. Dr. Traugott testified that respondent had previously been hospitalized in mental health institutions approximately 23 times and that these hospitalizations revealed a chronic psychiatric illness spanning the past 10 years. Dr. Traugott testified that, based on his expertise, a review of respondent's history, and his examination and observation of respondent, it was his opinion that respondent suffered from a psychotic thought disorder and delusional thinking. Dr. Traugott also testified that respondent's prognosis was poor, that her disorder was unlikely to respond to treatment and was likely to get worse, and that he doubted respondent had the ability to care for a growing child. Dr. Joseph Williams, a clinical psychologist, also testified for the State. Based on psychological testing and an interview with respondent in June of 1985, Dr. Williams testified that respondent was an emotionally explosive person who would be easily agitated by even light stress. He testified that significant stress would cause her to become verbally aggressive and lose control. Dr. Williams diagnosed respondent as suffering from a borderline personality disorder and a schizotypal personality disorder with paranoid tendencies, both of which would impair her ability to function as a parent on an everyday level.

In addition to the testimony of the psychiatrist and psychologist, two police officers testified about an incident where respondent attempted to take two babies from strollers at a Sweet Corn Festival, informing their families that she intended to adopt the babies. The police officers also testified to respondent's bizarre behavior upon being arrested following this incident. At the Conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court found that the environment provided for Gabriel by respondent was injurious to the infant's welfare, adJudged Gabriel a dependent and neglected minor, and made the infant a ward of the court.

On February 23, 1984, the circuit court ordered that custody of Gabriel remain with the DCFS and that the guardian establish a regular schedule of extended visits for the child in respondent's home. On March 8, 1984, a hearing was held on an emergency petition to modify visitation. At this hearing, an employee of the DCFS testified that respondent had made numerous threatening telephone calls to the witness after a visit with Gabriel had to be cancelled because of inclement weather. The witness also described an incident where respondent had physically threatened a caseworker during a scheduled meeting with respondent. The caseworker involved in the incident also testified, stating that respondent had backed her up against a wall and yelled at her while swinging her arms around in the air. The caseworker ...

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