Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 96--J--398 Honorable Janet Clark Holmgren, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson
Respondent, J.P. (respondent), appeals from an order terminating her parental rights of the minor J.P. and appointing a guardian with the power to consent to J.P.'s adoption. On appeal respondent contends, inter alia, that the trial court erred when it accepted her admission that she was unfit for failure to make reasonable progress without requiring the State to present the factual basis for the admission. The trial court also erred when it conducted a best interests hearing in respondent's absence after allowing her counsel to withdraw without complying with the requirements of Supreme Court Rule 13(c) (134 Ill. 2d R. 13(c)). We reverse and remand.
On November 11, 1996, the State filed a neglect petition alleging that J.P. was a neglected minor because he had been born with cocaine in his blood in violation of section 2--3(c) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (the Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2--3(c) (West 1996)). The trial court subsequently ordered respondent to obtain substance abuse treatment. The matter was continued several times, and on May 21, 1997, the trial court found that J.P. was a neglected minor. The cause was continued several more times, and on August 25, 1998, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging, inter alia, that she failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of J.P. and that she failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of J.P. The petition also alleged that J.P.'s father was unfit.
On May 5, 1999, the trial court conducted a hearing on the State's petition to terminate respondent's parental rights. At that hearing respondent admitted the allegation contained in the State's petition that she had failed to make reasonable progress. The following discussion was held regarding the admission:
"MR. GOLIAN [special prosecutor]: *** I would like to put it on the record the admission to *** count two of paragraph eight by [respondent] of [J.P.'s] petition.
THE COURT: [Respondent], with regard to [J.P.], the State has advised me that you are in agreement that they could prove the allegations of--
Is it count three or count two?
THE COURT: That from one year of the date that [J.P.] was found to be neglected by this court that you failed to make reasonable progress or reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that caused him to be taken from your care. Have you discussed that with your counsel?
THE RESPONDENT MOTHER: Uh-Huh, yeah.
THE COURT: Is there a stipulation as to that count?
MR. KIEL [respondent's counsel]: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Then I'll show the stipulation to count two of [J.P.'s] petition by [respondent]."
The trial court subsequently entered an order finding that respondent was unfit, and the cause was continued until August 9, 1999, for a hearing on J.P.'s father's fitness and a best interests hearing. On the same date in a separate proceeding, respondent consented to the adoption of another child, A.L., by his maternal grandmother, respondent's mother.
On June 17, 1999, Roger Kellerman, with the firm of Vella, Sparkman, Wheeler & Lund (the Vella firm), entered an appearance on behalf of respondent in this matter, the adoption of A.L., and in four other juvenile proceedings involving respondent. On August 2, 1999, respondent moved for a continuance. The trial court granted the motion and entered an order that stated in pertinent part:
"Respondent['s] *** motion for a continuance of the best interests hearing set for August 9, 1999 is granted. A new date will be set later. The case remains on the call August 9, 1999 at 9:00 a.m. for unfitness matters."
On August 9, 1999, the trial court conducted a hearing on the father's fitness and found that he was unfit. The report of proceedings indicates that the trial court set the matter for a best interests hearing on November 8, 1999; the trial court also set a status hearing for A.L.'s adoption on the same date. However, the written order entered indicates that the matter was set for "review" and "status in adoption." The report of ...