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In re K.B.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 3, 2019

In re K.B., a Minor
v.
Tisha B., Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Piatt County No. 15JA16, Honorable Jeremy J. Richey, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Susan K. O'Neal, of Equip for Equality, of Springfield, for appellant.

          Dana Rhoades, State's Attorney, of Monticello (Patrick Delfino David J. Robinson, and James Ryan Williams, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

          CAVANAGH JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Holder White and Justice Steigmann concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CAVANAGH JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The circuit court of Piatt County terminated the parental rights of Tisha B., to her daughter, K.B., born on September 16, 2015. Respondent appeals on four grounds.

         ¶ 2 First, respondent argues there was a per se conflict of interest in that the judge who presided at the shelter-care hearing in this case later served as the guardian ad litem in a postjudgment hearing in this case. We hold that by failing to object in the proceedings below, respondent has forfeited this issue.

         ¶ 3 Second, respondent argues that by finding her to be an "unfit person" within the meaning of section 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2016)), the circuit court made a finding that was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We are unable to say it is clearly evident that this statutory definition was unproven.

         ¶ 4 Third, respondent claims that not giving her enough visitation with K.B. had the effect of predetermining the outcome of the best-interest hearing. It seems to us that more visitation likely would have made no difference in the outcome of the best-interest hearing, since in its remarks at the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court gave the most weight to the factor of stability, and in any event, it was well-nigh inevitable that two-year-old K.B. would look upon the foster mother as the primary parental figure, considering that K.B. had lived with her since she was six weeks old.

         ¶ 5 Fourth, respondent objects that the dispositional order making K.B. a ward of the court lacked a statutorily required finding that she was unfit or unable to parent the minor. Because it was an agreed-on dispositional order, which respondent's attorney signed under the words "Approved by," respondent is estopped from criticizing the order. Respondent cannot approve an order and then complain of it on appeal.

         ¶ 6 Therefore, we affirm the judgment.

         ¶ 7 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 8 A. The Shelter-Care Hearing

         ¶ 9 On November 5, 2015, there was a shelter-care hearing, at which Timothy J. Steadman presided as the judge. He placed temporary custody of K.B. with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and ordered that visitation between respondent and K.B. would be supervised at all times by DCFS.

         ¶ 10 A visitation plan, filed that same day, stated that the time, date, and place of visitation were "TBA," or to be announced. (Respondent had been "involuntarily committed and transferred to Provena Hospital," according to the shelter-care report, and it was unknown when she would be discharged.)

         ¶ 11 B. The Adjudication of Neglect and the Subsequent Dispositional Order Making K.B. a Ward of the Court

         ¶ 12 On June 28, 2016, in an adjudicatory order, the circuit court found K.B. to be neglected, or "about to be neglected," in that respondent was "receiving mental health treatment at McFarland Mental Health Center pursuant to court order and [was] unable to care for the minor at this time."

         ¶ 13 On August 23, 2016, the circuit court entered a dispositional order making K.B. a ward of the court. Even though the dispositional order lacked a finding that respondent was "unfit or [was] unable, for some reason other than financial circumstances alone, to care for, protect, train or discipline the minor" (705 ILCS 405/2-27(1) (West 2016)), respondent's attorney signed the dispositional order under the words "Approved by."

         ¶ 14 Also, when the circuit court asked respondent's attorney if his client had any objections to any of the recommendations in the dispositional hearing report-including the recommendation that "[DCFS] be granted Custody and Guardianship of the respondent minor [K.B.]"-respondent's attorney answered, "She doesn't, Judge."

         ¶ 15 C. The Parental Fitness Hearing

         ¶ 16 On July 5, 2017, the State moved for the termination of respondent's parental rights. The sole ground alleged against respondent was that bipolar disorder prevented her from discharging her parental responsibilities and that the inability would persist for an unreasonably long time. See 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2016).

         ¶ 17 The circuit court held a parental fitness hearing on May 31, 2018, and a best-interest hearing on July 17, 2018. Instead of undertaking an exhaustive summary of all the evidence presented in those hearings, we will be selective, summarizing only enough evidence to put the parties' arguments and counterarguments in a meaningful context. Other witnesses besides those we specifically mention testified in the hearings, including respondent and the foster mother. However, given the issues raised in this appeal, we choose to highlight the testimony of the expert witnesses (without discounting the significance of other witnesses' testimony).

         ¶ 18 Let us begin with the parental fitness hearing.

         ¶ 19 1. The Events from Pregnancy to Involuntary Commitment

         ¶ 20 Around March 2015, respondent learned that she was pregnant. For the safety of the fetus, she decided, in consultation with her psychiatrist, to stop taking the medication she had been prescribed to control her bipolar disorder.

         ¶ 21 On September 16, 2015, K.B. was born, and on October 30, 2015, respondent was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. Not only had she developed mania from going off her medication (and keeping off of it for the sake of breastfeeding), but she also was suffering from postpartum depression. She was, psychologically, in a severe crisis.

         ¶ 22 To meet the contingency of just such a breakdown, a plan was already in place. Respondent and her aunt, Crystal Crist, had talked with one another while respondent was pregnant, and they had come up with a plan. They had agreed that if respondent came to need hospitalization, Crist would take care of K.B. Accordingly, while respondent was in Provena Hospital, Crist had custody of K.B.; she was keeping the baby at her house in Atwood, Illinois.

         ¶ 23 On November 9, 2015, when Provena Hospital discharged respondent, she set out to retrieve her child. The trouble was, the discharge was premature (as a psychiatrist, Lawrence Jeckel, would later opine); respondent was still in a manic condition. Consequently, she entered a trailer home near her own trailer home and picked up a baby whom she believed, erroneously, delusionally, to be K.B. Fortunately, the baby's parents were in the room, and respondent did not leave the trailer with the baby. On November 10, 2015, however, respondent was charged with attempted aggravated kidnapping and was held in the Douglas County jail, pending a criminal trial.

         ¶ 24 On January 13, 2016, respondent was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was transferred to the Department of Public Health for psychiatric treatment.

         ¶ 25 On February 19, 2016, respondent was involuntarily admitted into McFarland Mental Health Center (McFarland). She was still in McFarland as of May 31, 2018, the date of the parental fitness hearing.

         ¶ 26 2. Jeckel's Testimony

         ¶ 27 The State called Lawrence Jeckel, a licensed psychologist appointed by the criminal court in November 2015 to evaluate respondent's fitness to stand trial and to determine whether, at the time of her arrest, she was indeed, as suspected, not guilty by reason of insanity. To that end, Jeckel interviewed respondent on November 27, 2015, about three weeks after her arrest, and he reviewed her medical records. He learned, from her records, that she had been hospitalized between 25 and 30 times for her mental illness, bipolar disorder, type 1.

         ¶ 28 Although there was no denying that respondent had a "particularly severe case" of the disorder, the multiple hospitalizations, Jeckel suggested, could have been partly owing to an insurance-driven revolving-door problem at hospitals, which tended to be eager to get rid of disruptive psychiatric patients. When Provena Hospital prematurely discharged respondent on November 9, 2015, after giving her an injection that would have taken a month to begin working, she was arrested for trying to take someone else's baby. At the time of her arrest, respondent was psychotic and unable to appreciate the criminality of her actions. On November 27, 2015, however, when Jeckel evaluated her (he had not seen her since then), he found her to be fit to stand trial. In the report he wrote on December 9, 2015, he even opined that inpatient treatment was unnecessary for respondent and that outpatient treatment would be sufficient.

         ¶ 29 On the other hand, in the parental fitness hearing, Jeckel was asked, "And this is clearly the longest time she's ever been hospitalized[?]" His answer ...


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