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People v. Renee R.

August 31, 2000

IN RE M.R., C.R., D.R., M.R., AND M.R., MINORS (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
V.
RENEE R., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Barth

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Carol P. McCarthy, Judge Presiding.

Respondent Renee R. appeals from the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights as to her five children after finding respondent an unfit parent and finding it in the children's best interest to terminate her rights. On appeal, respondent contends that her right to be present and her due process rights were violated when the trial court conducted the parental fitness and termination hearings in her absence.

In her appeal, respondent does not challenge the evidence presented at the termination hearing or argue that the trial court's decision was against the manifest weight of that evidence, and we therefore briefly review the facts that were presented to the trial court. On June 9, 1998, the date of the termination hearing, respondent's counsel informed the trial court that respondent was in the hospital and under psychiatric care, and counsel requested that the hearing be continued. Respondent's counsel further informed the trial court that the length of respondent's hospital stay was "unknown" and that counsel was "ready to go forward." The trial court denied the request for a continuance, noting that respondent was "ably represented by counsel."

The court heard testimony from a psychiatrist and three caseworkers from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Lutheran Social Services. Respondent's case was first referred to DCFS immediately after the birth of her first child, M.R., in March 1985.

Later that year, DCFS was awarded custody of M.R. following a determination that the child would be endangered if left in respondent's care. This court affirmed, stating that respondent had not progressed in controlling her reactions to everyday stresses. The court also noted respondent's personality disorder, drug abuse and violent behavior. In re M.R., No. 1-86-2162 (1988) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). A second child, C.R., was born in 1986 and removed from respondent's care at birth but was later returned to respondent.

Respondent gave birth to a third child, D.R., in 1987, followed by twins, M.R. and M.R., in 1990.

The testimony established that since 1973 respondent had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals approximately 23 times and had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, for which respondent was prescribed several medications that she sometimes failed to take. Respondent's conditions caused her to be delusional, have hallucinations and exhibit unstable moods and periods of depression.

Between 1987 and 1993, respondent lived in at least 20 different locations. Respondent had minimal participation with parenting services offered to her, often starting programs but failing to complete them.

The testimony established that respondent would have difficulty caring for her children in the future due to her confused speech and thought processes and her often erratic behavior.

The trial court found respondent unfit as to the State's allegations that respondent (1) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the minors' welfare; (2) desertion of the children for more than three months; (3) habitual drunkenness or addiction to drugs for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness proceeding; (4) failure to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis of the removal of the children or to make reasonable progress toward the return of the children within nine months after the adjudication; and (5) inability to discharge parental responsibilities due to mental impairment, illness or retardation beyond a reasonable time period. After the best interest phase of the termination hearing, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights.

On appeal, respondent contends that the trial court's acts of finding her unfit and terminating her parental rights in her absence violated her "statutory right to be present" and her due process rights. Respondent argues that she had been hospitalized for a psychiatric condition and that her attorney was aware that she wanted to be present and wanted the case to be continued.

We initially address the State's contention that respondent's appeal should be dismissed because she challenges the denial of her request that the termination hearing be continued. The State argues that the denial of a motion to continue is not a final and appealable order. However, according to the notice of appeal, respondent's appeal was taken from the judgment of "termination of parental rights." Moreover, respondent's brief addresses alleged violations of her statutory and constitutional rights. We therefore find respondent's appeal properly before this court and will address its merits.

Respondent contends that, as the parent whose rights were being determined, she had a statutory right to be present at the termination hearing, citing section 1-5(1) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1-5(1) (West 1998)). However, although respondent has such a right, her presence is not mandatory. See In re C.L.T., 302 Ill. App. 3d 770, 778 (1999).

In determining whether the procedures followed in a parental rights termination proceeding satisfied the constitutional requirements of due process, this court must balance three factors. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, 96 S. Ct. 893 (1976); In re C.J., 272 Ill. App. 3d 461, 465 (1995). The factors outlined in Mathews are: (1) the private interest affected by the official action; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. Mathews, 424 U.S. at 334-35, 47 L. Ed. 2d at 33, 96 S. Ct. at 902-03. Applying ...


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