On the Spot -- Illinois Appeals Court Reverses Rogue Adoption Rulings by Cook County Judge

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Affirms second-parent adoptions that were granted to two lesbian mothers

Date

Date: 
06/01/1999

(CHICAGO, June 1, 1999) -- The Illinois appeals court late Tuesday offered apologies to two lesbian families whose attempts to secure second-parent adoptions for three small children had been blocked by the extraordinary actions and rogue rulings of a Cook County judge, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.

Ruling from the bench minutes after hearing arguments in Petition of C.M.W. and L.A.W. and Petition of M.M. and J.S., a unanimous three-judge panel of the First District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the adoptions for both families and declared null and void all rulings that Cook County Circuit Judge Susan McDunn entered after she had been removed from the cases for cause. An opinion will follow.

"This is a resounding rebuke of anti-gay bias in the courts, and a ringing affirmation of the rights and abilities of lesbian and gay parents," said Patricia M. Logue, supervising attorney of Lambda's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. Logue argued on behalf of both sets of mothers, whose names are withheld to protect the confidentiality of the children, ages 1, 1, and 3.

In an opinion read by Justice Morton Zwick, Judge McDunn's rulings were described as "an inexcusable injustice" that had needlessly prolonged the adoptions. The court also chastised the judge for demonstrating a "clear bias against lesbians," engaging in wrongful probing of the personal lives of the parents, and bringing discredit to the judiciary and "the people of Illinois."

Judge McDunn gained notoriety when she ignored positive recommendations from court-appointed guardians and testimony from social workers that showed the children were thriving and that "highly recommended" the adoptions as in their best interests. Instead, the judge took unusual and unnecessary steps to conduct an intrusive examination of the mothers.

She sought to delay deciding one adoption, which had been fully heard, until she could hear evidence about the unrelated second family. And, in orders that "astonished" the presiding judge of the adoption division, Judge McDunn had, sent the anti-gay Family Research Council (FRC) confidential information about one family and appointed FRC a party to represent the best interests of the children in both cases because FRC opposes all lesbian and gay adoptions.

Judge McDunn, who was assigned to traffic court last September, was removed from both cases for bias and other cause by Presiding Judge Francis Barth in orders on December 11, 1998 and February 3, 1999. Barth strongly reproached Judge McDunn for her actions and granted the adoptions. But Judge McDunn refused to relinquish control of the cases, and on February 13 and March 4 issued orders purporting to void Judge Barth's orders removing her and to void the adoption orders. These renegade post-removal rulings were challenged on appeal were set aside by the appeals court on Tuesday.

Second-parent adoptions allow a person to adopt the children of his or her partner without terminating the partner's parental status, and have been widely available to lesbian and gay parents in Illinois since Lambda won a state appellate ruling granting such an adoption in 1995. Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS.


(Petition of C.M.W. and L.A.W. and Petition of M.M. and J.S., No. 1-99-0769(6))

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Contact: Patricia M. Logue 312-663-4413 x30; Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984

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