Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 12 JA
00846 Honorable Nicholas Geanopoulos, Judge Presiding.
JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Lavin and Justice Pucinski
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 Respondent C.F. appeals the involuntary termination of her
parental rights with respect to her daughter, J.C., following
a September 19, 2018, hearing in which she was found unfit
under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act)
(705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 2016)) and the
Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D) (West 2016)). C.F. does not
challenge the trial court's termination of parental
rights findings but argues solely that the court erred in
denying her motion to compel nine-year-old J.C. to testify at
the termination hearing. Finding no error, we affirm.
3 J.C. was born to C.F. on February 17, 2009. In August 2012,
an anonymous call was made to the Department of Children and
Family Services (DCFS) reporting a child left alone in a
park. Police reported to the scene and found J.C. sitting
alone in a stroller. Fifteen minutes after the police
arrived, C.F. came and tried to push the stroller away. She
told police that she was J.C.'s mother and they were
homeless. She admitted that she slept in the park and left
J.C. alone on a daily basis while she went to public
restrooms to change her clothes and use drugs. Police found
"many syringes" wrapped up in a diaper in the
stroller with "evidence of recent use." C.F. was
arrested for child endangerment, and J.C. was taken to a
hospital for observation.
4 On August 29, 2012, the State filed a petition for
adjudication of wardship over J.C, alleging that J.C. was
neglected due to lack of care and an injurious environment
and abused due to a substantial risk of physical injury. The
State alleged that C.F. had "a long history of substance
abuse that has not been addressed." Based on prior
indicated reports, an intact family case was opened in 2011
to offer substance abuse treatment to C.F., but C.F. refused
to participate in services, and the case closed in May 2012.
The State further alleged that J.C.'s father was
deceased. (The father's death certificate was later
introduced into evidence.)
5 On March 7, 2013, after an adjudication hearing, the trial
court entered a finding that J.C. was neglected due to
C.F.'s lack of care and an injurious environment.
Following a dispositional hearing on May 9, 2013, the trial
court found C.F. unable to care for J.C. and entered an order
making J.C. a ward of the court.
6 On May 27, 2016, after three years of periods of progress
followed by lack of progress on C.F.'s part, the trial
court found that C.F. had not made substantial progress
toward J.C.'s return, stating that C.F. "still needs
to participate in services in order to change the conditions
that led to [J.C] being placed in DCFS care." Shortly
thereafter, on July 15, 2016, J.C. was placed with a
preadoptive foster home. On May 3, 2017, the trial court
entered a permanency goal of substitute care pending a court
determination on termination of C.F.'s parental rights.
7 On October 5, 2017, the State filed a "Supplemental
Petition for the Appointment of a Guardian with the Right to
Consent to Adoption," requesting the court find C.F. an
unfit parent, permanently terminate C.F.'s parental
rights, and appoint a guardian with the right to consent to
J.C.'s adoption. The State alleged that J.C.'s foster
parents wished to adopt her and adoption was in her best
8 The termination hearing was set for September 19, 2018. On
August 31, 2018, C.F. moved to compel then nine-year-old J.C.
to appear and testify at the hearing. In response, J.C.'s
attorney and guardian ad litem (GAL) filed a motion
to quash the notice to compel, arguing that it was not in
J.C.'s best interest to appear or testify. The GAL
alleged that, during the past two years, J.C. had not wanted
much, if any, contact with her mother, and she continually
voiced this opinion to her caseworker, her therapist, and the
GAL. Following her last two supervised visits with her mother
on February 26 and April 27, 2018, J.C. did not want to
resume visitation, because she was focused on her life at
home and at school. The GAL stated that J.C. "has been
subject to several very stressful and turbulent years"
and opined that requiring her testimony would risk causing
further emotional damage.
9 Termination of Parental Rights Hearing
10 The September 19, 2018, hearing began with the court
addressing C.F.'s motion to compel J.C.'s testimony.
As an offer of proof, C.F.'s counsel stated that, if
called to testify, J.C. would state that she wanted to say
goodbye to her mother and was not able to interact with her
during visitation. J.C. would additionally testify that she
wished to continue seeing her mother and did not want to
cease all contact.
11 In further support of his motion, C.F.'s counsel
argued that "the mother has the right to hear what the
child is going to say." He stated that the GAL's
allegation that J.C. did not want to see her mother was
contrary to the mother's experiences during visitation,
in which J.C. was "very affectionate," running up
to her, hugging her, asking "Where have you been?"
and "When am I going to see you *** again?" He
therefore argued that C.F. should be allowed to hear
J.C.'s testimony so she could know her daughter's
true wishes. He suggested that, if testifying in front of her
mother would be difficult for J.C, she could instead give
testimony in camera.
12 In response, the GAL stated that there was no compelling
reason to demand J.C.'s testimony, since, at best, it
would pertain only to the question of her best interests and
not to C.F.'s fitness as a mother. The GAL asserted that
demanding her presence under those circumstances would amount
to "harassment, oppression, and undue hardship."
The State joined in the GAL's objection, pointing out
that C.F. could testify to her relationship with J.C, thus
rendering J.C.'s testimony redundant. The State also
presented a letter from J.C.'s former therapist in which
the therapist stated:" [T] riggers of her biological
mother have adversely impacted [J.C]. *** Given that both her
biological mother and court are stressors for [J.C] at this
time, testifying will likely be troublesome for [J.C]."
13 The trial court denied the motion to compel J.C.'s
testimony, finding that it was not in her best interest
"given the history of the case and minor's own
emotional needs and her special needs that have come out over
the course of this case over the years." C.F.'s
counsel then requested sanctions, asking that J.C.'s
out-of-court statements regarding C.F. not be allowed even if
they fell under an exception to the hearsay rule. (Counsel
was unclear against whom these sanctions would be imposed.)