In re ADOPTION OF P.J.H.
Kohl Bertels, Respondent-Appellant. Benjamin Gossard and Cheryl Hurst, Petitioners-Appellees,
23 order filed 2 July 22, 2019.
from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 18-AD-69
Honorable Martin J. Mengarelli, Judge, presiding.
Attorney for Appellant Marshall H. Rinderer
Attorney for Appellees Curtis L. Blood
JUSTICE MOORE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Chapman and Cates concurred in the judgment
1 The respondent, Kohl Bertels, appeals the February 22,
2019, order of the circuit court of Madison County which
terminated his parental rights with regard to his minor
daughter, P.J.H., after the petitioners, Benjamin Gossard and
Cheryl Hurst, filed a petition requesting that Benjamin be
allowed to adopt her. On appeal, the respondent argues that
the circuit court erred in finding him to be an unfit parent
pursuant to, inter alia, section 1(D)(b) of the
Adoption Act. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2018). For the
reasons that follow, we affirm.
3 On June 1, 2018, Benjamin and Cheryl filed a petition in
the circuit court of Madison County, seeking an order
permitting Benjamin to adopt Cheryl's daughter, P.J.H.,
born in September of 2014. The petition alleged that Kohl is
P.J.H.'s biological father but had failed to maintain a
reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as
to her welfare. The petition further alleged that Kohl had
continuously neglected, abandoned, and deserted P.J.H. For
these reasons, the petition alleged that Kohl was an unfit
parent pursuant to section 1(D)(b) of the Adoption Act.
Id. Finally, the petition alleged that it was in the
best interests of P.J.H. that Kohl's parental rights be
terminated and Benjamin be permitted to adopt P.J.H.
4 On June 18, 2018, Kohl, who was then incarcerated in the
Department of Corrections, sent a letter to the circuit court
stating that he did not wish to lose his rights as
P.J.H.'s father. The circuit court accepted Kohl's
letter as an answer to the petition and appointed counsel to
represent Kohl in the proceedings. The circuit court also
appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent
P.J.H.'s interests. The circuit court entered orders
of habeas corpus so that Kohl would be able to
attend all hearings associated with the petition. On
September 14, 2018, Benjamin and Cheryl filed an amended
petition for adoption, adding an allegation that Kohl was
depraved due to his having more than three felony
convictions. See id. § 1(D)(i).
5 On November 27, 2018, the GAL filed her report and
recommendation regarding Kohl's fitness as a parent. The
GAL opined, in relevant part, that Kohl was depraved based on
his felony convictions. Id. Further, the GAL opined
that Kohl had no meaningful relationship with P.J.H. and had
not seen or supported her during the prior three years,
including periods when he was not incarcerated. Accordingly,
the GAL recommended that Kohl's parental rights as to
P.J.H. be terminated.
6 The circuit court held an evidentiary hearing on the
petition on February 22, 2019. Kohl testified he was then
incarcerated for a felony burglary he committed in October of
2016. He was previously convicted of felony burglary in 2012,
2013, and 2014. The circuit court took judicial notice of
these convictions. Kohl testified that the last time he saw
P.J.H. was in September of 2016, when he hosted a birthday
party for P.J.H. at his home. He attempted to send her a box
of toys through the Angel Tree program in December 2018.
Prior to the petition being filed, he tried to call on a
monthly basis to ask about P.J.H., but Cheryl told him to
stop calling. He has not sent any birthday cards or presents
prior to the petition being filed because he did not know the
address until he was served with the petition.
7 Kohl testified that he has never paid child support. He
visited P.J.H. on Christmas Eve of 2014 before he was
incarcerated for a burglary he committed while Cheryl was
pregnant with P.J.H. Prior to his current incarceration, he
tried to contact P.J.H., but Cheryl and Benjamin told him he
would need to go to court and get a visitation order. He was
unable to establish paternity or request visitation due to
his incarceration. Kohl testified that his crimes were a
result of his drug use. Between his release in August of 2015
and his incarceration in October of 2016, he visited P.J.H.
approximately 10 to 12 times. He asked to see her every week
during this period of time, but Cheryl always told him to
take her to court. Kohl testified he was set to be released
in July of 2019, had completed a drug program, and was
willing to do whatever it took to remain in P.J.H.'s
8 Cheryl testified that when she gave birth to P.J.H. in
September of 2014, she asked Kohl to step out of the room,
and instead, he left the hospital. He then showed up at her
house a week or two later. From then until he went to jail on
Christmas Eve of 2014, Kohl would stop by for five-minute
visits once or twice a week. During his first incarceration,
between December of 2014 and August of 2015, Kohl tried to
call Cheryl multiple times, complaining that Benjamin had
improperly undertaken a role as P.J.H.'s father. While
Kohl was out of prison between August of 2015 and October of
2016, Cheryl allowed him to visit with P.J.H. for eight hours
every other Saturday and three hours every Wednesday.
However, Kohl began trying to switch the schedule because he
only wanted visitation with P.J.H. on days when his
girlfriend was home. Kohl was ...