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In re Deborah S.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

January 16, 2015

In re DEBORAH S., Alleged to Be a Person Subject to Involuntary Admission;
v.
Deborah S., Respondent-Appellant The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 COMH 2028. Honorable Maureen Ward Kirby, Judge Presiding.

Reversed.

SYLLABUS

The trial court's finding that respondent was subject to involuntary commitment was reversed on appeal where respondent argued that the trial court applied an improper standard in denying her request to proceed pro se, that the denial of her request to proceed pro se was an abuse of discretion and that the evidence presented did not support the order authorizing her involuntary admission, since the State did not present clear and convincing evidence that respondent was unable to meet her basic physical needs so as to guard herself from serious harm and the trial court's order of involuntary commitment was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

For APPELLANT: Legal Advocacy Service, a division of the Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission, of Hines, Illinois (Veronique Baker and Ann Krasuski, of counsel).

For APPELLEE: Anita Alvarez, Cook County State's Attorney, of Chicago (Assistant State's Attorney Alan J. Spellberg, of counsel).

PRESIDING JUSTICE PALMER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Gordon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 923

PALMER, PRESIDING JUSTICE

[¶1] Following a hearing held on July 25, 2012, the trial court found that respondent, Deborah S., was subject to involuntary commitment to Chicago Lakeshore Hospital (CLH). On appeal, respondent argues that her involuntary admission was improper because: (1) the trial court applied an improper standard in denying her request to proceed pro se ; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in denying her request to proceed pro se, and (3) the evidence presented at the hearing was insufficient to support the trial court's order authorizing her involuntary admission.

[¶2] I. BACKGROUND

[¶3] On July 16, 2012, a petition seeking the involuntary admission of respondent to CLH pursuant to the provisions of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/1-100 et seq. (West 2012)) was filed in the circuit court of Cook County. The petition alleged, inter alia, that respondent was unable to provide for her basic physical needs due to a mental illness and was in need of immediate hospitalization. The petition reflected that respondent was admitted to Centegra Hospital on July 15, 2012, exhibiting paranoia and irrational thinking, as well as difficulties in caring for herself. The petition listed numerous delusions and erratic behavior respondent exhibited toward staff and residents at Home of the Sparrow (HOS), a transitional facility in which she had been living. In the accompanying certificate, Dr. Scott Feldman opined that respondent was paranoid, psychotic, delusional, unable to care for herself, and in need of immediate hospitalization. A commitment hearing was held on July 25, 2012.

[¶4] On the day of the hearing, respondent's court-appointed counsel informed the trial court that respondent wished to represent herself and requested leave to withdraw as counsel. The trial court then questioned respondent about her background, and respondent stated that she was 46 years old, was previously employed as a substitute mail carrier and as a driver for Walmart, attended approximately two years of college, and has twin sons who currently live with their father. Respondent informed the court that she was currently representing herself in her divorce proceedings, and had appeared in court approximately 15 times in that capacity, but would hire an attorney if she had the financial resources to do so. The court asked if she understood that her current court-appointed attorney had specialized knowledge and was representing her free of charge, and respondent stated that she did.

[¶5] The court then asked respondent if she understood that she would be held to the same procedural and evidentiary rules

Page 924

as an attorney, and respondent stated that she did. When the trial court asked her for an example of a rule of evidence, respondent stated " papers or petitions" and " medical records." The following colloquy ensued:

" THE COURT: So let me ask you this, do you understand the ramifications of a decision to proceed pro se ? What happens if you forgot to raise an argument that your lawyer could and that would have made the difference?
RESPONDENT: I guess that is part of not being trained.
THE COURT: That is why I am concerned.
RESPONDENT: I understand.
THE COURT: You're a bright lady. You've been able to answer my questions. I'm concerned. I'm concerned that you would not have someone who has specialized training who is very good at what she does.
RESPONDENT: Sure.
THE COURT: Who is very good at what she does and who is prepared to represent you today and zealously advocate for your rights and make sure that your constitutional liberty interest is protected. She is very good at what she does. So I haven't heard from you why you don't want her to represent you. Why don't you want her to represent you?
RESPONDENT: Well, your Honor, as I explained to her, I says [ sic ], obviously I had a right to - I was not ...

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