Appeal from the Municipal Court of Chicago; the Hon. GEORGE L.
QUILICI, Judge, presiding. Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE FEINBERG DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT. Rehearing denied February 24, 1955.
Plaintiff's action is for forcible entry and detainer to recover possession of an apartment and garage and for the unpaid rent for the month of October 1953. Defendant filed a counterclaim seeking treble damages under the federal rent control statute, alleging that plaintiff lessor executed a lease for the apartment at a rental of $55 per month and a 3-stall garage at $30 per month, a total of $85 stipulated in the lease. Defendant further alleged that plaintiff rented two of the stalls in the garage at $10 each, so that defendant was compelled to pay $85 for the apartment and one stall; and that this was all done by plaintiff to circumvent the maximum ceiling fixed in the federal regulations of $55 per month for said apartment.
A trial without a jury resulted in a judgment for defendant on his counterclaim for $690, representing treble damages and attorney's fees under the federal statute, and a finding and judgment for defendant on plaintiff's complaint for forcible detainer and rent, from which finding and judgment of the court plaintiff appeals.
Plaintiff's principal complaint is that the record demonstrates she did not have a fair trial, and that the trial judge unduly restricted plaintiff's right to introduce her evidence.
The report of proceedings discloses that a considerable portion of the record is devoted to colloquies between the court and plaintiff's counsel. It is earnestly argued that these colloquies clearly disclose definite prejudice of the court against plaintiff, which deprived her of a fair trial. Before any evidence was offered by plaintiff in defense against the counterclaim, plaintiff's counsel made the following statement:
"Mr. Smietanka: It is clear and unequivocal that there has been no complaints made to the Housing Expediter or anybody else, and this action now belatedly comes up in a set-off of rent. I do not think that the counterclaim states a cause of action and I do not think that the set-off claimed here is pertinent, and I think it should be stricken. The court has not read the pleadings, but has become apparently familiar with the details.
"The Court: I have become familiar in two ways, sir. One is by the information you have given me so eloquently, and also eloquent information from what I have received from what you did not answer, and you would be surprised sometimes, a failure to answer gives me more information than direct answers. Now, look, sir, it is clear to me, it is clear to me that your man, knowing that these premises were under rent control, and knowing that the legal ceiling was a certain amount, sought some way of circumventing the law and enriching himself illegally. That is clear to me, and how did he do it? He gave his tenants leases, wherein he charged them $30.00 a month for one stall in a nine or ten dollar garage, thereby enriching himself at least $20.00 a month in excess of what the law entitled him to. That seems very clear to me, counsel, even though it is unclear to you.
"The Court: I heard your client say that he could have had two or three increases there, but because he relied on this lease, he did not apply for them and did not obtain them. A fine chaos we would have had in this country if every landlord made his own laws, made his own arrangements, and circumvented the Act of the Congress of the United States and the United States officials appointed to administer it.
"The Court: Just a minute, sir, you know and I know that that is not right and it is not legal, and he ought not do it that way. He is not above the law and beyond the law, he is no different from any other property owner who lived during the unfortunate war period and the post war period we went through, but he just saw fit to do it his own way not let the Government of the United States, of which he is a good citizen, I am sure, tell him what to do, he is going to make his own laws.
"The Court: Do you wish to state anything further concerning why you are here, sir?
"The Court: Mr. Finnegan says at one time it looked as though the matter had been settled on some basis or the other, and I am not trying to be interested in that, but it seems to me, gentlemen, unfortunately, if that is true, that you did not carry out to a conclusion some settlement of this dispute. Whoever is right or whoever is wrong, it has reached a stage where it cannot be profitable. You are going to get bogged down with a lot of time and expenses, your fees and his fees and all that, court costs and reporter's costs and all that.
"Mr. Smietanka: There are things that are beyond money. This man is being accused of violating the rent control law.
"The Court: It is so obvious to me, counsel, that there isn't any dispute.
"Mr. Smietanka: If Your Honor please, it is not obvious to the ...