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The People v. Goss

OPINION FILED MARCH 20, 1957.

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

v.

THOMAS D. GOSS, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



WRIT OF ERROR to the Superior Court of Cook County; the Hon. DANIEL A. COVELLI, Judge, presiding.

PER CURIAM:

Thomas D. Goss, also known as Thomas Duggan and herein referred to as plaintiff in error, brings this writ of error to reverse an order of the superior court of Cook County adjudging him guilty of contempt of court, and sentencing him to ten days in the county jail and a fine of $100. Our jurisdiction is based upon the claim that the order deprived him of the rights of free speech guaranteed by the first amendment to the Federal constitution, as made applicable to the States by the fourteenth amendment.

During the year 1955 the plaintiff in error appeared regularly on an evening television program broadcast five nights a week from a Chicago station. This program was watched, according to the testimony of plaintiff in error, by some 200,000 persons within the Chicago area. The charge of contempt was based on certain remarks made by plaintiff in error in the course of these broadcasts during July and August, 1955, with reference to a divorce action then being tried in the superior court.

On July 26, 1955, Carl Champagne filed a complaint for divorce against his wife, Shirley, in the superior court of Cook County, charging her with cruelty. On the same date he made a motion that he be granted custody of their child, and a hearing on this motion was held before Judge Daniel A. Covelli. The hearing commenced on July 26 and lasted until July 29, at which time the court entered an order granting temporary custody to Carl Champagne's parents, and continuing the case until September 12 because the testimony on the part of the plaintiff had not been concluded. On the latter date the hearing was resumed and it continued until September 20, on which date another order was entered which also granted temporary custody to the paternal grandparents. The complaint for divorce was still pending and undisposed of at this date.

On July 28 one Robert Risberg, a private detective, testified on behalf of Carl Champagne that on June 3 Mrs. Champagne had spent the hours of from 2:30 A.M. until 6:00 A.M. in the apartment of plaintiff in error, and that on June 11 she had spent the hours of from 2:00 A.M. to 5:45 A.M. there. On July 29 the complaint was amended to charge Mrs. Champagne with having committed adultery with John Doe on the dates mentioned above. Cross-examination of Risberg began on July 28 and was completed on the following day. In a broadcast on the evening of July 28, plaintiff in error stated of Risberg with respect to his testimony in the case that he was a "professional sneak and liar." In subsequent broadcasts plaintiff in error again referred to Risberg in these terms.

On July 28 there also testified on behalf of Carl Champagne, his father, Dr. Carl Champagne, and his uncle, Anthony Champagne. On his broadcast of August 1 plaintiff in error referred to Carl Champagne and his relatives as a family "with court-admitted hoodlum connections," and referred to Dr. Carl Champagne as "a known associate of hoodlums." He further stated that Anthony Champagne had offered to keep the name of plaintiff in error out of the case if he would "lay off the hoodlums" in his broadcasts, but that plaintiff in error had on the contrary promised Mrs. Champagne to do everything in his power "to prevent the legal kidnaping of her child." The plaintiff in error also made statements denying that he had committed adultery with Mrs. Champagne and expressing sympathy for her.

In the course of the same broadcast plaintiff in error also stated that Carl Champagne had filed an action against him for alienation of affections, and in a broadcast of August 30, he stated that an action for slander had been filed against him by Risberg.

The present contempt proceedings were commenced on November 1, 1955, with the issuance of a rule to show cause by Judge Covelli. Plaintiff in error filed two petitions which raised various objections to the rule. He filed no answer, however, and he admitted having made the statements attributed to him with knowledge of the pendency of the divorce action. Plaintiff in error disclaimed any intent to influence or intimidate the judge or the witnesses and stated that his motive was to defend himself before his television public against the charges of adultery which were being made at the trial and which were being reported in a Chicago newspaper in a manner which plaintiff in error considered unfair.

At the hearing on the rule to show cause, plaintiff in error attempted to show that his statements were true. As to his charge that the Champagnes had "court-admitted hoodlum connections," it appears from the record that Anthony Champagne, after having testified that he knew certain named individuals, denied any knowledge of them as criminals. Plaintiff in error sought to introduce evidence that these individuals did in fact have criminal records. This evidence was excluded by the court. It also appears that in his testimony Anthony Champagne had denied having made any offer to plaintiff in error to keep the latter's name out of the divorce proceedings. The court excluded evidence offered by plaintiff in error to show that such an offer had in fact been made.

In its order adjudging plaintiff in error guilty the court stated: "The public utterances and characterizations by the said Thomas Duggan Goss of the plaintiff and witnesses called in his behalf were false, completely foreign to the evidence presented, with a positive tendency and designedly calculated to bring odium upon the testimony of the witnesses produced by the plaintiff and to inspire distrust in their testimony; engender a public atmosphere of hostility incompatible with judicial proceedings; create in the public mind by false, incompetent and prejudicial hearsay made without the safeguards of an oath or right of cross examination the belief that the plaintiff and those associated with him were of base character and that the plaintiff should not prevail in his cause; to create in the minds of witnesses fear and apprehension of being held to public scorn and ridicule and to exculpate himself from a charge amply sustained by the evidence."

The general principles governing contempt by publication have long been settled in this State. Under our decisions a publication is contemptuous only if it is "calculated to impede, embarrass or obstruct the due administration of justice." (People v. Gilbert, 281 Ill. 619, 628.) The publication of scandalous or libelous matter concerning a court or a judge is not, without more, contemptuous. The publication must tend to affect the outcome of a pending case. (Storey v. People, 79 Ill. 45; People v. Gilbert, 281 Ill. 619, 628-629.) On the other hand, it is not necessary to show that an interference with the administration of justice has actually occurred, nor is it a defense for the contemnor to disclaim any subjective intention of producing that result. People v. Wilson, 64 Ill. 195; People v. Gilbert, 281 Ill. 619; People v. Doss, 382 Ill. 307, 314.

Judged by these standards there can be little question but that the statements made by plaintiff in error were contemptuous and, indeed, plaintiff in error does not seriously argue to the contrary. His remarks impugned the motives of Carl Champagne and his family, enlisted sympathy for himself and Mrs. Champagne, and reflected upon the character and veracity of the witnesses who testified for Mr. Champagne in the custody hearing. In the light of the statement by plaintiff in error that he would do everything in his power to prevent the "legal kidnaping" of the Champagnes' child, it is clear that he hoped to influence the outcome of these proceedings, in which he, though not formally a party, was personally involved. But whether the statements made on the broadcasts would deter witnesses from testifying in favor of Mr. Champagne, or incite them to do so, in either event they would exert an outside influence upon the proceedings.

At the time of his statements the custody hearing had not yet been completed, and as the record shows it was probable that these same witnesses, or others, might subsequently be called to the stand. Indeed, the record shows that the testimony of one of these witnesses, Risberg, had not been completed before the time when the plaintiff in error first disparaged him. Furthermore, the divorce action proper, in which a jury trial may be had under our statutes, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1955, chap. 40, par. 8,) was also pending at this time. The same witnesses attacked by plaintiff in error could be expected to be called by Mr. Champagne to testify at that stage of the proceeding. Under the circumstances, the remarks ...


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