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People v. Ellis

June 30, 2000

IN RE: D.E. AND K.E., ALLEGED NEGLECTED MINORS, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
V.
NATALIE ELLIS, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 99JA33 Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cook

The State appeals the order of the circuit court dismissing its neglect petition pursuant to section 2-14 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-14 (West 1998)), which mandates that adjudicatory proceedings on such petitions must commence within 90 days of the date of service upon specified persons.

The State filed its petition on May 6, 1999, alleging the neglect of minors D.E. and K.E. Natalie Ellis is the mother of both children; James Ellis is alleged to be the father of D.E. and David Lockett is alleged to be the father of K.E. We herein refer to Natalie Ellis and James Ellis by both first and last name to avoid confusion.

Concurrently with the filing of the petition, notice of a shelter-care hearing set for May 7 went out to all parties: Natalie Ellis was personally given notice, as was a court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL); notice to David Lockett was left in his front door; notice to James Ellis was apparently left at his mother's residence. On either this day or the next, attorneys for Natalie Ellis and Lockett appeared before the court, as did the GAL. At the conclusion of the shelter-care hearing, the trial court set the adjudicatory hearing for August 4, 1999. James Ellis did not appear and a summons was ordered to issue. Service of the summons was effectuated on June 25, directing him to appear on July 2, 1999. James Ellis appeared as summoned and was admonished, inter alia, that an adjudicatory hearing on the matter was set for August 4, 1999. August 4, 1999, also happened to fall precisely 90 days after filing of the original neglect petition and service of notice of the shelter-care hearing, a fact to which we shall return.

All was quiet until August 4, whereupon the case began a journey through our Sixth Judicial Circuit. First came counsel for James Ellis who, shortly after the case was called, filed instanter a handwritten motion to recuse the sitting judge, Judge Einhorn, as a matter of right. Judge Einhorn expressed her disapprobation of the timing of the motion, noting that James Ellis had been apprised of the proceedings since his July 2 admonishment. Judge Einhorn asked for objections; the attorney representing Natalie Ellis refused to waive her right to object to any future proceedings inasmuch as they might fall beyond the 90-day deadline contemplated by section 2-14 of the Juvenile Court Act. Judge Einhorn then granted the motion and directed the parties to immediately obtain a setting from Judge Clemons. The common-law record for that day contains only a subsequent notation from Judge Clemons: "The [c]court notes the [m]otion for [s]ubstitution of [j]udge filed this date. By agreement of all parties, cause continued to 8-19-99, at 2:00 p.m., in [c]courtroom L."

August 19, 1999, came and the parties again appeared before Judge Clemons. The attorney for Natalie Ellis, however, filed instanter a motion to recuse Judge Clemons as a matter of right. Judge Clemons granted the motion, transferring the case to Judge DeLaMar, who apparently had time for a hearing that day. The parties proceeded to Judge DeLaMar's courtroom, where the GAL filed instanter a handwritten motion to recuse Judge DeLaMar as a matter of right. Judge DeLaMar transferred the cause to Judge Difanis. It was still the afternoon of August 19, 115 days after the petition was filed and notice of the shelter-care hearing had been sent.

Upon the arrival of the cause in Judge Difanis' court, the attorney for Natalie Ellis moved to dismiss the action pursuant to section 2-14(b) of the Juvenile Court Act. The trial court denied the motion and the State began introducing its evidence. The adjudicatory hearing was not concluded, however, and the court continued the case until October 27, 1999, more than two months later. On October 27, Natalie Ellis' attorney filed a written motion to dismiss, again claiming that the hearing had begun beyond the statutory deadline. Also attached were the affidavits of Natalie Ellis' attorney, James Ellis' attorney, and the GAL, all of whom averred that none of them had agreed to a continuance on August 4, despite the entry made by Judge Clemons. Upon further consideration, the court granted the motion and dismissed the cause. This appeal followed.

Section 2-14 of the Juvenile Court Act states:

"(a) Purpose and policy. The legislature recognizes that serious delay in the adjudication of abuse, neglect, or dependency cases can cause grave harm to the minor and the family and that it frustrates the health, safety[,] and best interests of the minor and the effort to establish permanent homes for children in need. The purpose of this [s]section is to insure that, consistent with the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, Public Law 96-272, as amended, and the intent of this [a]ct, the State of Illinois will act in a just and speedy manner to determine the best interests of the minor, including providing for the safety of the minor, identifying families in need, reunifying families where the minor can be cared for at home without endangering the minor's health or safety and it is in the best interests of the minor, and, if reunification is not consistent with the health, safety[,] and best interests of the minor, finding another permanent home for the minor.

(b) When a petition is filed alleging that the minor is abused, neglected or dependent, an adjudicatory hearing shall be commenced within 90 days of the date of service of process upon the minor, parents, any guardian[,] and any legal custodian, unless an earlier date is required pursuant to [s]section 2-13.1. Once commenced, subsequent delay in the proceedings may be allowed by the court when necessary to ensure a fair hearing.

(c) Upon written motion of a party filed no later than 10 days prior to hearing, or upon the court's own motion[,] and only for good cause shown, the [c]court may continue the hearing for a period not to exceed 30 days, and only if the continuance is consistent with the health, safety[,] and best interests of the minor. When the court grants a continuance, it shall enter specific factual findings to support its order, including factual findings supporting the court's determination that the continuance is in the best interests of the minor. Only one such continuance shall be granted. A period of continuance for good cause as described in this [s]section shall temporarily suspend as to all parties, for the time of the delay, the period within which a hearing must be held. On the day of the expiration of the delay, the period shall continue at the point at which it was suspended.

The term 'good cause' as applied in this [s]section shall be strictly construed and be in accordance with Supreme Court Rule 231(a) through (f). Neither stipulation by counsel nor the convenience of any party constitutes good cause. If the adjudicatory hearing is not heard within the time limits required by subsection (b) or (c) of this [s]section, upon motion by any party the petition shall be dismissed without prejudice.

(d) The time limits of this [s]section may be waived only by consent of all parties and approval by the court.

(e) For all cases filed before July 1, 1991, an adjudicatory hearing must be held within 180 days of July 1, 1991." ...


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