Illinois Appeals Court Officially Rebukes Rogue Judge

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Calls Cook County jurist's mistreatment of lesbian mothers "appalling"
July 21, 1999

(CHICAGO, July 21, 1999) -- An Illinois appeals court, strongly affirming the right of lesbian and gay families to adopt, has formalized its rebuke of a rogue circuit court judge whose bias interfered with adoptions by two lesbian couples, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Wednesday.

The appellate court's opinion chastised Cook County Judge Susan McDunn for, "extreme and patent bias against the adoptive parents based upon their sexual orientation." The court expressed its shock at the judge's treatment of the parents, who "came to our state court system in order to be allowed to adopt children, children with whom they had already formed a loving relationship over a period of time. A higher purpose cannot be imagined. To have the petitioners treated in the manner that they were is nothing less than appalling." Patricia M. Logue, supervising attorney of Lambda's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago, who helped represent the families, said, "Anti-gay bias causes real pain to real people. Three children had their legal ties to their parents jeopardized for a year because a judge could not put aside irrational prejudice." The mothers' names are withheld to protect the confidentiality of the children, ages 1, 1, and 3.

In strong language, the July 19 written opinion by Justice Morton Zwick echoed a June 1 ruling from the bench in which the unanimous three-judge panel of the First District Illinois Appellate Court held that the judge "inflicted anguish on the petitioners and needlessly prolonged what should have been a simple and straightforward process."

Now under investigation by the Judicial Inquiry Board, Judge McDunn gained notoriety for her biased handling of the two cases, Petition of C.M.W. and L.A.W. and Petition of M.M. and J.S., in which lesbian couples sought to adopt one another's biological children.

The judge ignored positive recommendations from court-appointed guardians and testimony from social workers that said the children were thriving and that "highly recommended" the adoptions as in their best interests. Instead, the judge took 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, she appointed the anti-gay Family Research Council to represent the best interests of the children in both cases because the Washington, D.C.-based group opposes all lesbian and gay adoptions.

Even after the presiding judge removed Judge McDunn from both cases for bias and other cause, she refused to relinquish control of them and on February 13 and March 4 issued orders purporting to void her removal and block the adoptions.

On June 1, immediately after Lambda and the children's guardian argued emergency appeals, the appeals court vacated and nullified those orders, and the adoptions for both Cook County families were upheld. This week's ruling expands on the court's reasoning and affirms second-parent adoptions by lesbians and gay men.

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 gay parents in Illinois since Lambda helped win 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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