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People v. Ferrell

January 16, 2002

IN RE: M.F. AND T.R., ALLEGED TO BE NEGLECTED MINORS,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE
v.
JERI FERRELL, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County Nos. 99JA44 99JA5 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

Released for publication February 25, 2002.

IN RE: M.F. AND T.R., ALLEGED TO BE NEGLECTED MINORS,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE
v.
JERI FERRELL, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County Nos. 99JA44 99JA5 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

PUBLISHED

 On April 27, 2000, the trial court found respondent mother, Jeri Ferrell, an unfit parent. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2000). On February 9, 2001, the trial court terminated her parental rights to T.R. (born May 13, 1992) and M.F. (born March 28, 1998). Jeri appeals, arguing (1) the trial court erred in finding her to be an unfit parent; (2) the trial court erred in ruling no party has the burden of proof in the best-interest stage of termination of parental rights proceedings; (3) the trial court erred in finding it was in the best interest of the minors her parental rights be terminated; and (4) she received ineffective assistance of counsel during the termination proceeding. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 2, 1999, Jeri, a diagnosed schizophrenic, attempted suicide by taking an overdose of medications. She was admitted to the hospital that day to be medically stabilized. She was transferred to the psychiatric unit and remained there from January 5 to January 11. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report on January 9 that M.F. was at risk of harm due to his mother's actions. M.F., then nine months old, was staying with Jeri's parents, Jim and Sue Ferrell. Both Jeri and M.F. resided with Jim and Sue for a period after M.F.'s birth while her medications became stabilized.

In July 1995, Jim had been indicated by DCFS for risk of sexual harm to a two-year-old girl being cared for by Sue and for sexual molestation of his then three-year-old granddaughter, T.R. Jim denied the allegations and did not undergo counseling. A protective order prevented him from any contact with T.R. M.F. was taken into protective custody from Jim and Sue by DCFS on January 11. T.R. was placed in foster care where he has resided throughout the pendency of these proceedings.

On January 12, 1999, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship in No. 99-JA-5, alleging Jeri and M.F.'s father, Ashley Evans, neglected M.F. by providing an environment injurious to M.F.'s welfare due to, among other things, Jeri's attempted suicide and resulting hospitalization. At the adjudicatory hearing on February 18, Jeri admitted this allegation of neglect and the other allegations were dismissed.

At the conclusion of the dispositional hearing on April 30, the trial court entered an order finding Jeri to be unfit and adjudicated M.F. a ward of the court, transferring guardianship to DCFS.

On March 31, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship in No. 99-JA-44, alleging T.R. was a neglected minor due to injurious environment while in the care of respondent as Jeri has mental health issues as admitted in No. 99-JA-5 and to permit her to have unsupervised contact with T.R. would create a risk of harm for the minor. The petition was amended on July 7 alleging T.R. was neglected due to an injurious environment while in the care of respondent as Jeri had been found unfit in No. 99-JA-5. An adjudicatory hearing was held on July 26, and the trial court found both allegations of neglect proved. On January 20, 2000, a dispositional order was entered adjudicating T.R. a ward of the court. Guardianship was not transferred to DCFS but, rather, full legal and physical custody was granted to T.R.'s father, David R., with whom she has resided continuously since her parents' divorce in 1993.

Jeri has had visitation with T.R. since the divorce. Initially the visitation was unsupervised, but after the allegations of sexual abuse on the part of her father, Jim Ferrell, in 1995, in 1996 the visits became supervised pursuant to court order and remained so to the present.

The State filed petitions to terminate Jeri's parental rights as to both M.F. and T.R. on January 20, 2000. Both petitions alleged Jeri is an unfit person under section 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2000)) and her parental rights should be terminated. A consolidated hearing on both petitions to terminate was conducted between April 2000 and February ...


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