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People v. Sleezer

NOVEMBER 3, 1955.




Writ of Error to the Circuit Court of La Salle county; the Hon. ROBERT E. LARKIN, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


Rehearing denied December 20, 1955.

This is a contempt action against respondent, a member of the Illinois Bar, who had practiced law 33 years, in which, after rule to show cause, and answer thereto, and after a full hearing, he was found in contempt of court by the presiding judge of the Circuit Court of La Salle County, Illinois, and sentenced to 30 days in the county jail for criminal contempt, for deliberately falsifying to the court, while an officer of said court, his status as attorney in a criminal case, No. 50373, entitled The People of the State of Illinois vs. Charles Sleezer, et al., grand larceny — then pending before that court. The rule to show cause charged that respondent did commit contempt by falsely advising the court, on the day the criminal case was scheduled to go to trial, that he did not represent the defendant in the criminal case at said time, or prior thereto; that he had not been paid anything by said defendant; and, by making it appear that said Sleezer was without counsel, the respondent did prevent the criminal case from then going to trial; and that the respondent did thereby impede, obstruct, delay, prevent and hinder the trial of said criminal case.

Respondent contends that no contract of employment existed between defendant Sleezer and respondent; that the record, as shown by the original docket sheet in the criminal case, did not contain the name of respondent as defendant's attorney; and that as Sleezer had not paid respondent to represent him, respondent did not falsely represent to the court that he was not Sleezer's attorney. Respondent argues that the only persons who could possibly know whether he had been retained to represent defendant were respondent and said Sleezer; and that, as both of said persons testified that respondent had not been employed, there was no contract of employment; and, without a contract of employment, the lower court erred in finding that respondent was in truth and in fact the attorney for Sleezer.

It appears that Charles Sleezer was arrested on January 16, 1955, on a charge of grand larceny and incarcerated in the common jail of said La Salle County. On the same day, respondent consulted with said prisoner concerning the making of bail, and as a result of said consultation, respondent had conversations or consultations with the state's attorney concerning the making of bail, resulting in Sleezer's release on bail three days after his arrest.

On March 18, 1955, an indictment was returned by the grand jury of said county charging Sleezer with grand larceny, and a second indictment, with attempted bribery. Sleezer was brought into court on March 23 and was furnished with a copy of the indictment, list of witnesses and jurors. As no counsel appeared in court with him, the court properly inquired as to whether he had counsel to represent him and defendant stated that respondent was his attorney, and it wasn't possible for him to be in court that day.

There is a dispute in the evidence as to the reason respondent was not in court on the date set for the arraignment. The state's attorney testified that on March 23 respondent called him on the telephone in his office and talked with him regarding the arraignment, service of copy of indictment, lists of witnesses and jurors, and respondent in substance stated — "he wasn't going to give me any trouble in this case, that he was busy on other matters and it would not be necessary for him to be present on arraignment." Respondent denies or does not remember these statements.

Following this date, respondent in company with defendant Sleezer, interviewed at their homes Robert Conness, Kasper Webber and Lawrence G. Ryan, encouraging them to contact one of the complaining witnesses on Sleezer's behalf; and respondent and Sleezer further contacted one of the complaining witnesses, Gustav Engelhaupt, soliciting him to intervene in Sleezer's behalf by giving his approval to the state's attorney for a recommendation of probation on a plea of guilty.

In accordance with the rules of court, the state's attorney on March 31, 1955, in the presence of Herman Ritter, deputy clerk, posted in the Circuit Court room a list of criminal cases for trial commencing May 2, 1955, in which the case against Sleezer charging grand larceny was placed first on the list, the case against Sleezer charging attempted bribery being second, and a case against one Eugene Reetz, who was represented by respondent, being third on the list. The rules of court: (Rule 4) provided: "CONTINUANCES No cause placed upon the trial list will be passed except for good cause shown." (Rule 6) provided: "CRIMINAL TRIALS At least five days before the date fixed by the Court for the trial of criminal cases the State's Attorney shall post in the court room a criminal trial calendar placing thereon all criminal cases for trial and in such order as the State's Attorney may elect, which shall be called and tried in the order so adopted, unless the Court shall otherwise direct."

On Tuesday, April 26, 1955, the state's attorney sent to defendant by United States mail a notice, with the title of the cause, stating ". . . since you have not as yet entered a plea, please be advised that we would appreciate your appearing in the Circuit Court room, in the Court House, Ottawa, Illinois, on April 29, 1955 at ten o'clock A.M."

On several occasions the respondent contacted the state's attorney attempting to induce him to recommend probation for Sleezer on a plea of guilty, and on said April 29, again talked to the state's attorney concerning probation for Sleezer, or, in the alternative, to pass the Sleezer cases and try the Reetz case on May 2. On one of these occasions, respondent made the comment to the state's attorney that he was going to see the judge to see if he could withdraw from the case. Respondent denies this testimony of the state's attorney.

On April 29, respondent had a conference with the presiding judge of the court in his chambers discussing Charles Sleezer making a plea in the case, and made the inquiry of the judge as to what he would do if the respondent should ask to withdraw his appearance. Upon the court's advising him that he would not allow him to do it, respondent stated that he thought so. Respondent denies these statements by the court.

On Monday, May 2, the Sleezer case was called for a plea of guilty or not guilty, and in the event of a plea of not guilty, for trial. A jury was present in open court, having been duly empaneled for the trial of pending cases. Respondent advised the court that he did not represent defendant at that time, and had not represented him prior thereto in the cause. The Sleezer case was then continued to May 3, at which time respondent again stated that he did not represent defendant. On defendant's motion for change of venue from the judge and for a continuance, the cause was continued, and later the motion for change of venue from the judge was granted, and trial by jury had before another judge.

On May 9, Judge Larkin entered a rule on respondent to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt, for falsely stating and representing in open court on May 2 and May 3 that he was not the attorney for Sleezer on said dates, and for further falsely stating and representing in open court on May 2 that he was not attorney for Sleezer on said May 2, or prior thereto, in the matter then before the court; that the respondent thereby wilfully and fraudulently deceived the court for the purpose of ...

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