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In re Jamarqon C.

April 7, 2003

IN RE JAMARQON C., A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE, V. MITCHELL C., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT). IN RE JAMARQON C., A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE, V. BLANCHE M., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 01--JA--234 Honorable Patrick L. Heaslip, Judge, Presiding. Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 01--JA--234 Honorable Patrick L. Heaslip, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gilleran Johnson

PUBLISHED

In this consolidated appeal, the respondents, Mitchell C. and Blanche M., appeal from the August 29, 2002, order of the circuit court of Winnebago County terminating their parental rights to their son, Jamarqon C. On appeal, Mitchell argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a continuance prior to the fitness hearing. Blanche argues that section 1(D)(t) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(t) (West 2000)), the statutory provision under which she was adjudicated unfit, is unconstitutional. Alternatively, she argues that the State failed to present clear and convincing evidence that she was unfit. We affirm.

On September 20, 2001, the respondent gave birth to her eighth child, Jamarqon. Jamarqon was born with cocaine in his blood, urine, and meconium. Blanche's previous three children had also been born with cocaine in their systems and had been taken into protective custody after being adjudicated neglected.

On September 26, 2001, the State filed a petition alleging that Jamarqon was neglected pursuant to section 2--3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2--3 (West 2000)). Specifically, the petition alleged that Jamarqon was neglected because he was born with cocaine in his urine, blood, or meconium. The petition also alleged that Jamarqon's environment was injurious because Blanche had a substance abuse problem and admitted to using cocaine while she was pregnant. Additionally, the petition alleged that Jamarqon was neglected because his siblings had previously been adjudicated neglected, thereby placing him at risk of harm. Following a shelter care hearing, the trial court placed temporary custody of Jamarqon with DCFS.

On March 6, 2002, the State filed a petition, as amended, seeking to terminate the parental rights of Mitchell and Blanche to Jamarqon. The petition alleged that Mitchell was unfit because he was depraved and had failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in Jamarqon. See 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i), (D)(m) (West 2000)). The petition alleged that Blanche was unfit because she had failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in Jamarqon. The petition further alleged that she was unfit pursuant to section 1(D)(t) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(t) (West 2000)), which identifies the following condition as a ground for unfitness:

"A finding that at birth the child's blood, urine, or meconium contained any amount of a controlled substance as defined in subsection (f) of Section 102 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, or a metabolite of a controlled substance, with the exception of controlled substances or metabolites of such substances, the presence of which in the newborn infant was the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant, and that the biological mother of this child is the biological mother of at least one other child who was adjudicated a neglected minor under subsection (c) of Section 2--3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987, after which the biological mother had the opportunity to enroll in and participate in a clinically appropriate substance abuse counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation program." 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(t) (West 2000).

On April 26, 2002, the trial court conducted a pretrial conference on the State's petition. The trial court set August 29, 2002, as the hearing date for the State's petition. The trial court informed both Mitchell and Blanche that they needed to be in court on that date, and if they were not, the hearing would proceed in their absence. Mitchell indicated that he understood this admonishment.

On August 29, 2002, the trial court conducted a hearing on the State's petition. Neither Mitchell nor Julie Hughes, the attorney who had represented him in the earlier proceedings, was present. Attorney Kathleen Hadley, who was standing in for Hughes, requested a continuance. The trial court denied the motion.

The State then presented evidence on its allegations of neglect. The State admitted into evidence Jamarqon's certified medical records from Rockford Memorial Hospital. These records indicated that Jamarqon had been born on September 20, 2001, with cocaine in his blood, meconium, and urine. Neither the State nor the respondents presented any other evidence as to the allegations of neglect. The trial court then found that the State had established by a preponderance of the evidence that Jamarqon was neglected.

The State next presented evidence as to the respondents' unfitness. The State requested that the trial court take judicial notice of the court files of Blanche's three previous children who had been adjudicated neglected, Samuel H., Bionca H., and Markie C. The State also requested that the trial court take judicial notice of two criminal files of Mitchell's which indicated that he had three prior felony convictions. The State also admitted into evidence Jamarqon's certified medical records, Samuel's certified medical records, and Blanche's records from Rosecrance, a substance abuse treatment facility in Rockford.

Stephanie Tobolski testified that she was the caseworker for two of Blanche's children from January to August 2001. Tobolski testified that as part of the service plan that she developed for Blanche, Blanche was required to receive treatment for her drug addiction. Tobolski met with Blanche and gave her recommendations about obtaining treatment, but Blanche never cooperated. On cross-examination, Tobolski acknowledged that Blanche had obtained a substance abuse assessment at Rosecrance in July or August 2001. Rosecrance recommended treatment for her; however, Blanche never enrolled in substance abuse treatment.

Michelle Garnhart testified that she was Jamarqon's caseworker. Blanche had made only sporadic contacts with her and had not contacted her since the last court hearing in April 2002. Garnhart testified that Mitchell had visited Jamarqon only twice. He had never called or written her or stopped by her office to inquire about Jamarqon's condition. He also never sent any gifts, supplies, clothing, or money for Jamarqon.

Blanche testified on her own behalf. She acknowledged that Tobolski had tried to help her get substance abuse treatment. She had attended Rosecrance and had received an assessment and started classes. However, she did not complete the program. Blanche testified that she had completed a treatment program at the Sojourn ...


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