The Child Representative statute is unconstitutional IN IL. BUT WE USURPED THE LAW WE NOW HAVE a “custody czar.”

September 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Child Representative statute is unconstitutional

By Scott Colky

The members of the Special Subcommittee of the Illinois State Bar Association who wrote and lobbied for the “Child’s Representative” statute were well-intentioned, hardworking attorneys and judges who cared deeply for children. The statute has had a positive impact on attorneys who represent children by requiring mandatory education and training.

The goal of the Subcommittee was to create a Guardian ad Litem who could investigate the

child’s situation and report to the court regarding their conclusions. In addition, they wanted the same individual to be able to subpoena witnesses, call witnesses at trial and advocate what the Child’s Representative believed was in the child’s best interest. In light of the fact the Child’s Representative would have the powers of both the Guardian ad Litem and the Attorney for the Child, a prohibition against cross-examining the Child’s Representative was included in the statute.

Prior practice BUSINESS as usual

Prior to the enactment of the Child Representative statute, the court could appoint either a Guardian ad Litem or an Attorney for the Child. When an attorney was appointed to represent young children, the appointment was usually as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). The GAL would interview the children and advocate what that attorney believed was in the children’s best interest. However, in situations where the children were older and voiced strong preferences, the appointment was usually as an Attorney for the Child (AFC). The AFC was bound by his traditional role of advocating his client’s wishes even if the attorney believed those preferences were not in the children’s best interests. In those cases, the AFC would request that the court appoint a GAL to investigate the situation and to report what she felt was in the child’s best interest. This created a problem. The court had to appoint two attorneys to do the job now performed by the Child’s Representative, thereby increasing the cost of the litigation.

Prior to the enactment of the Child’s Representative statute, the ethical requirements of an attorney appointed to represent children were easily defined. The AFC had a fiduciary relationship to her client and functioned in the traditional role of an attorney. The GAL, however,

stood in the shoes of the children and was a party to the litigation. In re the Parentage of Ryan Griesmeyer, 302 Ill.App.3d 905, 707 N. E. 2d 72 (1st Dist. 1998). The guardian investigated, created a report for the court and was subject to cross-examination. In re the Marriage of Karonis, 296 Ill.App.3d 86, 693 N.E.2d 1282 (2nd Dist. 1998).

Current statute

Section 506 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act defines the role of a Child’s Representative, stating that…”[t]he child’s representative shall have the same power and authority

to take part in the conduct of the litigation as does an attorney for a party and shall possess all the powers of investigation and recommendation as does a guardian ad litem. The child’s representative shall consider, but not be bound by, the expressed wishes of the child…” “The child’s representative shall not be called as a witness regarding the issues set forth in this subsection.” 750 ILCS 5/506.

Custody czar?

A Child’s Representative owes a duty to whom? Certainly not the child, because it is the Child’s Representative’s sole discretion to determine what they believe is in the child’s best interest and to advocate that position. If the position she takes is not in the child’s best interest, where is the accountability? The statute gives the Child’s Representative unfettered discretion to determine best interest. And, by virtue of their appointment, the Child’s Representative has enormous

credibility and influence with the court, who is relying on this individual to be the court’s eyes and ears. The Child’s Representative’s most dangerous tool is that he or she is able to convey hearsay information to the court.

Hearsay information does not usually come into evidence as it is considered unreliable. The basis of the unreliability is that the declarant cannot be cross-examined. Entire statutes have been created such as “The Dead Man’s Act” to prevent hearsay from coming into evidence. While there is an established body of law regarding exceptions to the hearsay rule, the most important factor in those exceptions is the reliability of the statement.

Courts have traditionally required that doctors, psychologists, and witnesses come to court and testify, so that the truth finding process, highlighted by cross-examination, could take place. Only in the situation where an expert testifies that they relied on hearsay information does that hearsay information come into evidence. However, the information is admitted not for the truth of what the expert was told by the declarant, but to serve as the basis of what the expert relied on in forming that opinion, Wilson v. Clark, 84 Ill.2d 186, 417 N.E.2d 322 (1981). Further, those hearsay sources could then be called as witnesses and other evidence attacking what the expert relied on could be introduced at trial.

This is not the case with our “custody czar.” For example, the Child’s Representative has the ability to speak to mental health treaters who have a confidential relationship with the children. The Child’s Representative is able to incorporate that information into their recommendation and reports to the court. Since neither the Child’s Representative nor the mental health treater can be

cross-examined, the court receives hearsay information that cannot be challenged.

The child’s representative statute is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of Illinois in Lulay v. Lulay, 193 Ill.2d 455, 739 N.E.2d 521 (2000) held that grandparent’s visitation was unconstitutional because parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody and control of their children. The Illinois Supreme Court reiterated this position two years later in Schweigert v. Schweigert, 201 Ill.2d 42, 772 N.E.2d 229 (2002).

Because raising children is considered a fundamental liberty interest, it receives heightened protection under the due process clauses of both the State and Federal constitutions. Article 1, section 2 of the Illinois Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor be denied equal protection of the laws.” See In re M.H, et al., 196 Ill.2d 356, 751 N.E.2d 1134 (2001); In the Interest of J.B. and T.B., 328 Ill.App.3d 175, 765 N.E.2d 1093, (1st Dist. 2002); and Lulay v. Lulay, 193 Ill.2d 455, 739 N.E.2d 51 (2000). Due process in its most basic form requires that a litigant have the right to appear and present evidence. The litigant also has the right to cross-examine witnesses.

It is a well-established principle that a public hearing before any tribunal or public body means the right to appear and give evidence and also the right to hear and examine the witnesses whose testimony is presented by opposing parties. See E. and E. Hauling v. County of DuPage, 77 Ill.App.3d 1017, 396 N.E.2d 1260 (2nd Dist. 1979) and People ex. rel. Robert J. Klaeren II

v. Village of Lisle, 316 Ill.App.3d 770, 737 N.E.2d 1099 (2nd Dist. 2000).
The Juvenile Court Act recognizes that issues involving loss of custody entitle parents to the

right to cross-examination:

“Due process is not a technical concept unrelated to time, place, and circumstances; rather, it is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as a particular situation demands. Procedural aspects of due process require that a person be given notice and an opportunity to be heard and to defend in an orderly proceeding adapted to the case. Due process is not denied when a party fails to avail himself of the opportunity to be heard after it is offered to him. [citation omitted] While section 1-20 of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill.Rev.Stat. 1981, ch 37, par 701-20(1)) entitles respondents to certain rights including the right to be present [and represented by counsel] and to cross-examine witnesses, the proceedings are not intended to be adversary in character. The primary concern is the best interests and welfare of the child.” [citation omitted]. In re D.L., Jr., 226 Ill.App.3d 177, 589 N.E.2d 680 (1st Dist. 1992).

Even cases involving child support arrearages recognize the right to cross examination:

“The rights to cross-examine and to present evidence are so basic as to be grounded in due process. Collectively, they constitute the litigant’s day in court. Illinois Constitution, Art II, §2; [cites omitted] Defendant’s citations to the effect that the scope and extent of cross-examination are matters for the trial court’s discretion do, of course, express sound principles of law but are not applicable to a situation of complete denial. We conclude that the procedure followed in the instant case effectively denied the plaintiff her day in court, and the resulting order must

therefore be reversed and remanded for a proper hearing.” In re the Marriage of Jamal, 98 Ill.App.2d 180, 240 N.E.2d 246 (1st Dist. 1968).

Based on the foregoing, 750 ILCS 5/506 violates procedural due process by creating an individual who can report evidence to the court and not be subject to cross examination. As a result, litigants are denied due process and “their day in court.”

Unfortunately, courts have become comfortable relying on the “custody czar” to help them make very difficult decisions regarding children. However, the statute is so fundamentally flawed that it not only violates due process, but equal protection as well.

Equal protection

The protection provided by the equal protection clauses in the Constitutions of the United States and Illinois is identical. The government is required to treat similarly situated individuals in a similar manner. The government, therefore, may not treat different classes of persons on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the purpose of legislation. In re R.C., 195 Ill.2d 291, 745 N.E.2d 1233 (2001).

Under the equal protection clause, courts are required to treat similarly situated individuals in a

similar manner. Nonetheless, parents who are going through custody, removal, visitation and parentage cases are all treated differently depending on whether the court appoints a GAL, AFC or a Child’s Representative for the children.

Under 750 ILCS 5/506, the decision as to the type of child’s advocate is completely left up to the court’s discretion. There is no criteria or guidance given to the court to help them determine which type of child’s advocate should be appointed. Therefore, although individual litigants may be similarly situated, they may have the right to cross-examination if a GAL is appointed but will not have the right to cross-examination if a Child’s Representative is appointed.

Courts apply strict scrutiny to classifications affecting fundamental rights. In re A.A., 181 Ill.2d 32, 690 N.E.2d 980 (1998). “To survive strict scrutiny in the equal protection context, as in due process analysis, the means employed by the Legislature must be necessary to advance a compelling state interest, and the statute must be narrowly tailored to the attainment of the legislative goal.” [cite omitted] In re R.C., 195 Ill.2d 291, 745 N.E.2d 1233 (2001).

There is no compelling reason why litigants in custody cases should receive such disparate treatment. No rational basis exists for the court to hear unchallenged hearsay in some cases, and to allow the truth finding process to take place in others.

It is understandable that judges want to receive as much information as is available in cases involving children. These are tough cases and the consequences are great. However, in the Legislature’s desire to protect children, it has enacted a statute that rejects concepts of basic fundamental fairness and has replaced these concepts with a “custody czar.” Thanks David

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