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People v. Phyllis J.

October 13, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Fulton County, Illinois No. 96-JA-26 Honorable Patricia A. Walton Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge

Phyllis J. (respondent) appeals from an order of the Fulton County circuit court terminating her parental rights to J.J. and V.J. (the minors). She claims that the court erred in finding her unfit and terminating her parental rights. She also claims that the court committed several procedural errors at the adjudicatory and permanency review hearings, and that her counsel was ineffective at those hearings. We reverse the order terminating her parental rights and dismiss her remaining claims for lack of jurisdiction.


I. Pre-termination Proceedings

The State filed a juvenile petition requesting that the minors *fn1 be adjudged wards of the court due to allegations of abuse and neglect. The court conducted a shelter care hearing and gave temporary custody of the minors to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS formulated a service plan for respondent with tasks including alcohol treatment. The State later filed a supplemental petition alleging six counts of abuse and neglect.

At an adjudicatory hearing on June 4, 1996, respondent admitted the allegations in two counts of the supplemental petition. According to those counts, respondent and her husband (the parents) endangered the minors by excessively using alcohol and engaging in physical altercations while under the influence of alcohol. The court accepted respondent's admissions and adjudged that the minors were abused and neglected. The remaining counts of the supplemental petition were dismissed.

At a dispositional hearing on July 18, 1996, the court noted that the parents had made significant progress with their housing and in acknowledging their alcohol problems. Nevertheless, the court found that the minors' best interests warranted a transfer of guardianship to DCFS. After announcing this finding, the court admonished the parents of their right "to appeal from the Dispositional Order that will be entered."

A permanency review hearing *fn2 was held on October 22, 1996. The court did not file its dispositional order (from the July 18 hearing) until October 23, 1996. According to that order: the parents were adjudged unfit to have custody of the minors due to excessive alcohol use; the minors were made wards of the court; and DCFS was named as their guardian with the right to place them in foster care. The parents were instructed to cooperate with DCFS and Catholic Social Service (CSS).

The next permanency review hearing was held on April 22, 1997. In preparation for the hearing, a CSS caseworker submitted a report containing recommendations for further handling of the case. The following colloquy occurred regarding the recommendations:

"BY MR. NEIGEL [Guardian Ad Litem]: Your Honor, I would concur in that recommendation. I think that, based on the report, the recommendations are appropriate.

I am pleased to see that there has been some meaningful progress in this case. It looks like the parents are doing pretty much everything we're asking them to, and I'm glad to see we're going in the right direction.

BY MR. DAVIS [parents' attorney]: We would agree with the recommendations, Your Honor, and I just want to state to the Court that I'm very pleased with my clients. I feel that they have made substantial progress, and I would ask the Court to take note of that.

BY THE COURT: The Court would agree. When I received the report sometime last week, it came as a pleasant surprise. It's not always that we see, and particularly in these cases, that parents are making substantial progress.

And I think you both ought to be commended for taking the steps that you have to help yourself and also to help with your children. So you should be commended for that."

The next permanency review hearing was held on September 2, 1997. A CSS caseworker submitted another report in preparation for that hearing. According to the report, the parents had maintained an orderly home, cooperated in dealing with their finances, and were participating in an aftercare alcohol treatment program. They reported having abstained from alcohol for eight months. They were attending parenting classes through CSS, and their visits with the minors had been gradually increased. The caseworker recommended that the minors be returned home with close monitoring for six months. The court adopted this recommendation and entered an order giving the parents physical custody of the minors. Guardianship remained with DCFS.

The minors were taken from the home again in January of 1998, when a police officer reportedly found respondent intoxicated while supervising them. Subsequent permanency review hearings were held on March 3 and November 12, 1998. At both hearings, the parents were ordered to ...

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