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In re A.C.

January 5, 2005

IN RE A.C., A MINOR
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
ANTHONY C., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois, No. 01-JA-22. Honorable John R. McClean, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge

PUBLISHED

The trial court found the respondent father, Anthony C., unfit to care for his minor child, A.C., because of (1) substantial neglect that was continuous and repeated (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(d) (West 2002)) and (2) depravity (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i) (West 2002)). The court also terminated the respondent's parental rights regarding A.C. On appeal, the respondent argues that the trial court (1) violated his due process rights because of his telephonic participation in the fitness hearing; and (2) erred by terminating his parental rights. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

A.C. was born on October 20, 2001. On March 5, 2004, the State petitioned the trial court to terminate the respondent's parental rights concerning A.C. In the petition, the State alleged that the respondent was unfit because of (1) substantial neglect that was continuous and repeated, (2) depravity, and (3) a previous finding of unfitness regarding another child. The depravity allegation was based on the respondent's convictions for five felonies and six misdemeanors. On April 15, 2004, the State amended the petition to include a sixth felony conviction.

The trial court began the fitness hearing on June 17, 2004. At that time, the respondent was in the custody of the Scott County, Iowa, sheriff's department. The Illinois court had arranged for the respondent to participate in the fitness hearing by speaker phone from the Iowa jail. The respondent's attorney, Dennis DePorter, was present in the courtroom. Before the hearing began, the judge cleared the courtroom and allowed the respondent and his attorney to confer privately by phone.

After the respondent's conference with his counsel, the respondent's attorney explained why the respondent was incarcerated in Iowa. The respondent was eligible for a pretrial release program in Iowa. However, there was a warrant for the respondent's arrest in Illinois "for nonpayment of a periodic installment." The Iowa sheriff's department would not release the respondent because he had an outstanding arrest warrant in Illinois.

The respondent's attorney then objected to the respondent's participation in the hearing by telephone. The attorney requested a continuance so that the respondent could attend the hearing in person.

The State objected to a continuance. During the State's objection, the following exchange took place among the assistant State's Attorney, the respondent, and the court:

"[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY]: *** I believe that it's in [A.C.'s] interests that this hearing proceed today.

[RESPONDENT]: Hello.

THE COURT: Yes.

[RESPONDENT]: Okay. The speaker cut out.

THE COURT: The motion to continue, you know, it is a problem when you do these hearings by telephone and I recognize that. But the Illinois Appellate Court has given this as an option when we have somebody who is in custody and we can't secure their attendance in court, and that's the situation we have right now."

The trial court then denied the respondent's request for a continuance.

Before the parties presented evidence, the trial judge told the respondent, "if you have any problem hearing what's being said[,] interrupt so we know you can't hear it." The judge also assured the respondent that the court periodically would allow him to confer with his attorney privately by phone.

The assistant State's Attorney offered A.C.'s birth certificate as evidence. The respondent then said that he could not hear what was being said. The judge explained that the State had offered A.C.'s birth certificate. The respondent replied, "All right."

The assistant State's Attorney next tendered copies of a series of the respondent's convictions that began in 1993. During the discussion of State's exhibit five, the respondent said, "I can't hear." The judge explained, "No one is saying anything right now. I'm just looking at the document." Then, the respondent and the judge discussed the conviction in exhibit five.

The assistant State's Attorney submitted more copies of the respondent's convictions. The series of convictions ended with State's exhibit 14, for which ...


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