MT. VERNON — The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld a Bond County Court ruling regarding a mother whose parental rights were terminated.
The appeals court did, however, find that the lower court erred in requiring the mother, identified only as Tracy A., to pay attorney fees for her own counsel under the state's Criminal Code when matters related to juvenile abuse and neglect are covered by the Civil Code.
"It was improper to require (the) mother to reimburse her appointed counsel under a criminal statute," Appellate Judge Judy Cates wrote in the court's ruling. "Secondly, there is no statute within the Code of Civil Procedure or the Juvenile Court Act which allows for the imposition of legal fees incurred by the representation of an indigent respondent in termination cases. We therefore reverse the trial court’s order requiring mother to reimburse the county for her appointed counsel. We further remand this cause to the trial court so that mother can be refunded any monies already paid."
Appellate Judge Judy Cates
After her son was removed from her care due to alleged alcohol and domestic violence abuse in 2016, Tracy A. claimed in her appeal that the lower court erred in demanding she pay attorney fees and faltered in issuing "an order changing the goal from 'return home' to 'substitute care pending termination of parental rights'," the ruling said.
Despite paying all mandated fines, Tracy A. failed to show the Division of Children and Family Services that she had a safe place for her minor to return to while also failing to prove she had stopped abusing alcohol.
"On June 26, 2017, at a permanency review hearing, it was revealed that DCFS had been unable to observe mother’s living environment because mother had had no documented address since December 2016," the court order said. "Her service plan for substance abuse was also rated unsatisfactory given that her caseworker could not monitor whether mother was actually drinking."
"(The) mother argues that the order changing the goal was against the manifest weight of the evidence," the court ruling state. "The order of which mother complains was entered on June 26, 2017. Mother did not directly appeal this order after it was entered."
The state filed its motion to terminate Tracy A's parental right on Sept. 20, 2017 and a hearing was held on the matter on Oct. 17 of that same year.
"At this hearing, mother stipulated by clear and convincing evidence that she had not made reasonable progress or reasonable efforts, and therefore was an unfit person as defined by the Juvenile Court Act of 1987," the court documents read.
Cates pointed out that Tracy A. did not appeal the permanency order within the required 14 days of the June 26 order.
“Because permanency orders are not final judgments, and do not dispose of the entire controversy, they are not applicable under Illinois Supreme Court rules,” Cates wrote in her order.
As to the final termination of Tracy A's parental rights, Cates wrote: "Under the circumstances presented, we find no error in the court’s decision to terminate mother’s rights to the minor. Mother, herself, stipulated at the unfitness hearing to the finding that she had not made reasonable progress, or reasonable efforts, toward the return of the minor, and was therefore an unfit person as defined by the Juvenile Court Act. We will not reverse a trial court’s finding of parental unfitness unless contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence."
Fifth District Appellate Judges Melissa Chapman and James Moore concurred with the rulings.