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In re Aniylah B.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

August 12, 2016

In re ANIYLAH B., a Minor, Respondent-Appellee
Latasha C, Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Rule 23 order withdrawn July 28, 2016

          Opinion filed August 12, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 14-JA-1448; the Hon. Richard A. Stevens, Judge, presiding.

          Bruce H. Bornstein, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Michele Lavin, and Nancy Kisicki, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

          Robert F. Harris, Public Guardian, of Chicago (Kass A. Plain, of counsel), guardian ad litem.

          Panel JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Rochford and Justice Delort concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          HALL, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The respondent, Latasha C. (Latasha), appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County finding Aniylah B. (Aniylah), a neglected minor based on an injurious environment. On appeal, Latasha contends (1) the trial court erred when it took judicial notice of the transcript and exhibits admitted at a prior proceeding for temporary custody in the adjudication proceedings and (2) the trial court's finding that Aniylah was neglected based on an injurious environment was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Latasha does not challenge the trial court's dispositional order in this appeal.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Latasha and Marland B. (Marland) were married in April 2013.[1] Prior to their marriage, Latasha gave birth to the couples' children, Marlaisa B. and India B. Latasha had a son, Latristan C-H., from a prior relationship. The couple's third child, Aniylah, was born on November 26, 2014.

         ¶ 4 On December 8, 2014, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship alleging that Aniylah was a neglected minor, being a minor under the age of 18 years whose environment was injurious to her welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2012)). The petition further alleged that Aniylah was an abused minor in that a family member or a person residing in the same home as Aniylah created a substantial risk of harm to her (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(ii) (West 2012)). The petition contained the following factual allegations: "[Latasha] has three other minors who are in [the Department of Children and Family Services] custody with findings of physical abuse, abuse and/or neglect having been entered. [Latasha and Marland] have prior indicated reports for substantial risk of physical injury and cuts, welts and bruises. [Marland] has been convicted of aggravated battery to a child for beating [Aniylah's] sibling. Parents have not made substantial progress in services offered to assist them in reunifying with [Aniylah's] siblings. [Marland] is currently incarcerated."

         ¶ 5 A temporary custody hearing was held on December 8, 2014. The trial court granted temporary custody of Aniylah to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The order was entered without prejudice. Latasha was allowed supervised visitation with Aniylah.

         ¶ 6 On April 21, 2015, a contested hearing was held to resolve the issue of Aniylah's temporary custody. Following the hearing, the trial court determined that while reasonable efforts had been made to address the problems that led to Aniylah's siblings being placed in DCFS's custody, Latasha's efforts had not been sufficient to eliminate the urgent and immediate necessity for Aniylah's removal from her custody. The trial court awarded temporary custody of Aniylah to DCFS.

         ¶ 7 Prior to the adjudication hearing on the petition for wardship of Aniylah, the State filed a motion requesting that the trial court take judicial notice of all non-hearsay sworn testimony from the April 21, 2015, temporary custody hearing and certain of the State's exhibits admitted into evidence at that hearing. The State prepared a redacted transcript of the April 21, 2015, hearing. Latasha filed objections to several portions of the redacted transcript on the grounds of hearsay and inaccuracies in the transcription. Latasha also objected to testimony addressing Aniylah's best interests as irrelevant as it was not at issue in an adjudication proceeding. Latasha objected to the admission of the October 1, 2014, DCFS service plan and the admission of the September 10, 2014, Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic Report (CCJC report), containing an evaluation of Aniylah's sibling, India B., on the grounds of hearsay. Latasha also maintained that the documents' probative value to the issue of abuse or neglect suffered by Aniylah was outweighed by the unfair prejudice to Latasha that would result from their admission into evidence at the adjudicatory hearing.

         ¶ 8 On October 26, 2015, prior to the start of the adjudicatory hearing, the trial court heard argument on the State's motion for judicial notice and Latasha's objections. The State had further redacted the April 21, 2015, transcript, removing the hearsay testimony objected to by Latasha. The trial court acknowledged that best interests was not the evidentiary standard applicable to an adjudicatory hearing, but the court ruled that the testimony was relevant as it provided factual information regarding the risk to the minors and explained why DCFS removed Aniylah from Latasha's custody. The court sustained Latasha's objections to the inaccuracies in the transcript, which were then corrected.

         ¶ 9 Turning to the State's exhibits, the trial court ordered the State to lay a foundation for the admission of the DCFS October 1, 2014, service plan, and for the admission of the September 10, 2014, CCJC report. Latasha stipulated to the foundation for their admission but did not withdraw her unfair prejudice objections.

         ¶ 10 The trial court granted the State's motion and took judicial notice of the October 1, 2014, service plan, the September 10, 2014, CCJC report, and the redacted transcript, and admitted them into evidence in the adjudication hearing. The court overruled Latasha's objections based on the unfair prejudice, stating that as the trier of fact it was "clearly capable of not being overly prejudiced by the statements contained in these exhibits." The court stated it would accord less weight to those statements in the October 1, 2014, service plan and the September 10, 2014, CCJC report that constituted hearsay or double hearsay.

         ¶ 11 At the adjudication hearing, the State presented the testimony of Debra Woodson, a DCFS supervisor, and Amy Gordon, a DCFS ...

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