Z.J. v. Lisa A.J.

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation168 N.E.3d 210,2020 IL App (2d) 190824,445 Ill.Dec. 746
Docket NumberNo. 2-19-0824,2-19-0824
Parties IN RE Z.J., a Minor The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Lisa A.J., Respondent-Appellant.
Decision Date26 March 2020

2020 IL App (2d) 190824
168 N.E.3d 210
445 Ill.Dec.

IN RE Z.J., a Minor

The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,
Lisa A.J., Respondent-Appellant.

No. 2-19-0824

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.

Opinion filed March 26, 2020

Gary D. McGuane, of DeKalb, for appellant.

Marilyn Hite Ross, State's Attorney, of Rockford (Patrick Delfino, Edward R. Psenicka, and Diane Campbell, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.


JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

445 Ill.Dec. 750


¶ 2 Respondent, Lisa A.J., appeals from an order of the circuit court of Winnebago County, finding that she was an unfit parent and that it was in the best interests of her minor biological son, Z.J., that her parental rights be terminated. On appeal, respondent raises four principal issues. First, she contends that the trial court's finding that she was unfit was against the manifest weight of the evidence because "virtually all of the evidence offered by the state consisted of multilevel hearsay" for which the State laid "no proper foundation." Second, she challenges the trial court's finding that it was in Z.J.'s best interests to terminate her parental rights, arguing again that virtually all of the State's evidence consisted of multi-level hearsay and that the remaining, admissible evidence was insufficient to sustain the State's burden of proof. Third, respondent maintains that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Fourth, respondent argues that her due process rights were violated because the judge who presided over the proceedings leading up to the filing of the motion to terminate her parental rights also presided over both the unfitness and best interests phases of the termination hearing. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


¶ 4 Z.J. was born on October 24, 2004, and has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (autism ), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity

168 N.E.3d 215
445 Ill.Dec. 751

disorder (ADHD). Respondent identified Edward D. as Z.J.'s putative biological father, but Edward did not participate in the underlying proceedings and is not a party to this appeal. On October 21, 2014, the State filed a three-count petition alleging that Z.J. was a neglected and abused minor. The first two counts alleged that Z.J. was neglected based on an injurious environment, thereby placing him at risk of harm in that respondent's paramour, Daniel A., struck Z.J. with an object (count I) and grabbed Z.J., causing bruising (count II). 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2014). Count III alleged that Z.J. was an abused minor in that Daniel created a substantial risk of physical injury to Z.J., other than by accidental means, which would be likely to cause death, disfigurement, impairment of emotional health, or loss or impairment of any bodily function, by grabbing Z.J., causing bruising. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(ii) (West 2014).

¶ 5 A. Shelter Care and Neglect Adjudication

¶ 6 The matter proceeded to a shelter-care hearing on October 21, 2014, which respondent attended. The court appointed an assistant public defender to represent respondent and a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent Z.J.'s interests. The State submitted a statement of facts that provided in relevant part as follows. On October 17, 2014, the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline received a call that Z.J. was observed with "two blue bruises * * * larger than a quarter" on the front of his chest. Z.J. had told the caller that on October 15, 2014, his ‘‘stepfather,’’ Daniel A., grabbed him "very hard in the chest" because he did not finish his homework. Z.J. further related that respondent was present when the incident occurred. The caller represented that Daniel was a registered sex offender. When a child protection investigator subsequently met with Z.J., respondent, and Daniel, Z.J. told the investigator that the bruises developed when Daniel "grabbed his shirt and pulled it up so high that * * * his belly was showing" after Z.J. refused to do his homework. Z.J. confirmed that respondent was present when Daniel grabbed him. Respondent denied that Daniel touched Z.J. and accused the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and others of harassing her. According to Daniel, when Z.J. refused to do his homework, Daniel put Z.J. "in a corner." Daniel denied grabbing Z.J. by his shirt. Z.J. was taken into protective custody and placed in the home of a relative.

¶ 7 After providing respondent with several admonishments, the court recessed to allow the parties to discuss the matter. When the hearing resumed, the State announced that respondent had agreed to waive her right to a temporary custody hearing and also agreed that (1) there was probable cause to believe that Z.J. was abused and neglected, (2) there was urgent and immediate necessity to remove Z.J. from his home, (3) DCFS used reasonable efforts in removing Z.J., (4) temporary guardianship and custody would be placed with DCFS, which would have discretion to place Z.J. with a responsible relative or in traditional foster care, and (5) visitation between Z.J. and respondent would take place at the discretion of DCFS. The court accepted the parties' agreement and entered a temporary custody order, a protective order, and a supplemental protective order in accordance therewith. At a subsequent hearing, the trial court assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to the case and scheduled an adjudicatory hearing. On January 14, 2015, respondent appeared before the court and factually stipulated to count II of the neglect petition, based on the original statement of facts. The State dismissed counts I and III

168 N.E.3d 216
445 Ill.Dec. 752

of the petition with the understanding that any services would be based on all three counts.

¶ 8 On March 25, 2015, the parties appeared for a dispositional hearing. At the commencement of the hearing, the trial court noted that it had received two reports for the hearing, one from the caseworker assigned to the family and one from the CASA. The court then recessed the proceeding to allow the parties to confer. Thereafter, the State announced that "the parents are going to be found unfit or—well, unable to care for the minor at this time." The parties further agreed that (1) DCFS would retain guardianship and custody with discretion to place Z.J. with a responsible relative or in traditional foster care, (2) visitation between respondent and Z.J. would be at the discretion of DCFS, and (3) all prior orders would remain in place. The State explained that the factual basis for the agreement was "the court report that had been prepared for today." The court accepted the parties' agreement and entered an order in accordance therewith.

¶ 9 B. Permanency Review Hearings and Motion to Terminate Parental Rights

¶ 10 In the months and years that followed the dispositional hearing, the trial court held 10 permanency review hearings. During this time, Z.J. had various placements, including with relatives, in foster care, and at hospitals. Because of aggressive behavior, however, Z.J. was moved in March 2016 to the Cunningham Children's Home (Cunningham) in Urbana. The record indicates that, while at Cunningham, Z.J. has been involved in many incidents of physical and verbal aggression, including biting himself and staff members, hitting and kicking staff members, and using racial slurs toward staff and other residents.

¶ 11 At each permanency review hearing, the court received from the caseworker then assigned to the family a report detailing the family's progress. The reports included the family's service plans, which identified several tasks for respondent, including (1) participation in parenting classes, (2) participation in individual counseling, (3) participation in couple's counseling, (4) participation in educational groups for children with autism or developmental disabilities, (5) compliance with agency recommendations, and (6) participation in family therapy. Respondent was also asked to draft a safety plan for Z.J.'s return home and maintain visitation with Z.J.

¶ 12 The first permanency review hearing was held on July 21, 2015. In her report to the court, caseworker Megan Grooms-Alberto noted that respondent had begun parenting classes, had been cooperative with the agency managing her case (Children's Home and Aid), and had expressed a willingness to participate in other tasks identified in the service plan, including individual counseling and educational groups for children with autism and developmental disabilities. Grooms-Alberto indicated that she would refer respondent (and Daniel) to couple's therapy when respondent's therapist deemed it clinically appropriate. Although Grooms-Alberto opined that respondent had made reasonable efforts during the review period and recommended a permanency goal of "return home within 12 months," she voiced concern that respondent had not developed a safety plan. At the hearing, the parties and the GAL agreed to stand on the caseworker's...

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  • People v. Jeffrey J. (In re J. J.), 4-22-0131
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 29, 2022
    ...hear all proceedings involving child custody and the division of parental responsibilities." In re Z.J., 2020 IL App (2d) 190824, ¶ 85, 168 N.E.3d 210. The termination of parental rights permanently removes a minor child from his or her parent's custody. ¶ 26 Second, with criminal law, the ......
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    • July 24, 2023
    ...987 N.E.2d 1. ¶ 38 We first note issues not raised in the trial court are forfeited on appeal. In re Z.J., 2020 IL App (2d) 190824, ¶ 50, 168 N.E.3d 210. While the plain-error doctrine can be applied in abuse and neglect cases (In re Andrea D., 342 Ill.App.3d 233, 242, 794 N.E.2d 1043, 1050......
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    • August 22, 2022
    ...hear all proceedings involving child custody and the division of parental responsibilities.' In re Z.J., 2020 IL App (2d) 190824, ¶ 85, 168 N.E.3d 210." J. J., 2022 IL App (4th) 220131-U, ¶ 25. This court then compared proceedings under the Juvenile Court Act to criminal proceedings, noting......
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    ...to, events which transpired while the supervisor was assigned to the case. See, e.g., In re Z.J., 2020 IL App (2d) 190824, ¶¶ 53-61, 168 N.E.3d 210 (discussing ways in which the State may lay a proper foundation for the admission of a service plan). Therefore, even if the service plans or t......
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