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The People v. Wilcox

OPINION FILED MARCH 24, 1955.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

KATHERINE K. WILCOX, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



WRIT OF ERROR to the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ELMER J. SCHNACKENBERG, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE DAILY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff in error, Katherine K. Wilcox, prosecutes this writ of error to review a judgment of the circuit court of Cook County fining her $25 for an alleged direct contempt of court. Although the People raise the question of our jurisdiction on direct appeal, we think it manifest, from an examination of the record presented, that the order appealed from constitutes an invasion of plaintiff in error's constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of the law.

The contempt proceeding arose during the course of a hearing in a chancery suit initiated by one Adaline C. Smallwood, who, apparently, was the beneficiary of a trust created by the will of her daughter, Helen I. Soutter, deceased. The facts show that the mother, as part of a plan for marshaling assets outstanding in the names of others, herself established a trust known as the Adaline C. Smallwood trust which provided that after the death of the settlor her rights were to vest in William E. Lukes, should he survive her. Following the establishment of such trust, Adaline C. Smallwood commenced two chancery suits seeking to benefit her trust estate. The first of the suits, No. 53 C 2011, was for the appointment of a trustee under a trust created by the will of Helen I. Soutter, for a construction of said will, and for certain relief against the executor. The second suit, No. 53 C 4985, sought an accounting from the executor for the proceeds of a certain sale. Several months after the said complaints had been filed, William E. Lukes, by attorney Earl Wilcox, husband of the plaintiff in error, filed a petition to intervene in cause No. 53 C 2011 on the ground that he was a contingent beneficiary of the Smallwood trust and, as such, had an interest to protect in the two suits which sought to marshal and safeguard the assets of said trust. The court permitted the petition to be filed but neither granted nor denied the motion to intervene.

Following various reports and hearings in the two causes, the court, on December 15, 1953, entered an order in suit No. 53 C 2011 appointing a single trustee for both the Smallwood and Soutter trusts and directing that the assets of both trusts be turned over to said trustee. On the same day, an order was entered dismissing cause No. 53 C 4985. A short time thereafter, the new trustee filed a petition in cause No. 53 C 2011 seeking directions as to the administration of the Smallwood trust and praying that summons be issued directed to William E. Lukes, among others, directing him to appear and answer the said petition and to assert any rights he might have or claim with respect to the trust instrument and any objection that he might "have or claim to have against any order that this Court may enter concerning the trust and the assets thereof." A summons was served on Lukes, and six days later, on January 4, 1954, his appearance, and that of his attorney, Earl Wilcox, was filed in the cause. Wilcox then prepared motions pertaining to each of the chancery causes and served notices for a hearing on the same on January 12, 1954. When that day arrived, Wilcox was ill and instructed the plaintiff in error, his wife and secretary, to present the motions to the court and to request that the hearing be continued because of his illness. There is disagreement as to what occurred when plaintiff in error sought to fulfill her husband's instructions.

The contempt order entered against plaintiff in error recites that she appeared before the bar and presented two motions and two notices of said motions and asked leave to file them with the minute clerk of the court, whereupon the court denied her leave to do so and instructed her that she could not file the said documents and that the court would not entertain the motions. However, in plaintiff in error's motion to vacate the contempt order, she alleged that the court merely handed the documents back to her saying it would not entertain the motions and, for that reason, specifically refused to enter an order denying them. She also denied that the court had instructed her that she could not file the motions. The order of court in question was not reduced to writing in the minutes of the cause. In any event, it is admitted that plaintiff in error then filed the documents in the office of the clerk of court on another floor of the building.

A week after the events last recited, plaintiff in error, through happenstance, accompanied her husband at another hearing on the chancery matters. The record discloses that the court, apparently upon learning of the plaintiff in error's presence, abruptly interrupted the proceedings and summarily proceeded against her in the following manner:

"The Court: Are you Mrs. Wilcox?

Mrs. Wilcox: Yes, sir.

The Court: Will you come up here a minute? You were in here the other day, I believe, on a motion. I told you you could not file that.

Mrs. Wilcox: Your Honor, you said you could not entertain it. You didn't say I couldn't file it.

The Court: I handed it back to you.

Mrs. Wilcox: Yes, sir.

The Court: What did you do then? Go downstairs and ...


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