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People v. Baxter





APPEAL from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. REGINALD J. HOLZER, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE DAVIS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The circuit court of Cook County, Criminal Division, found the defendant, DeWright Baxter, guilty of a direct criminal contempt of court and ordered that he be incarcerated in the House of Correction for 1 year. The appellate court affirmed the order and we granted leave to appeal.

The alleged contempt arose out of the allegations of a pro se petition for substitution of judges and attorney which was filed on April 16, 1968, by Baxter in a criminal action in which he was the defendant. Hearing was held on the petition on April 22, 1968, and immediately upon its conclusion, the contempt order, which is the subject of this appeal, was entered. The order neither contained findings relative to the specific facts out of which the contempt arose nor set forth the petition or certain of its allegations. However, the transcript of record set forth the petition and the contempt order, and the report of proceedings contained all colloquies, questions and answers between the defendant, his counsel and Judge Reginald Holzer.

In his petition the defendant alleged that Judge Holzer and the defendant's counsel had entered into a conspiracy to sentence him to the penitentiary for from 9 to 12 years if he failed to plead guilty to the charges in two cases then pending against him; that the defendant could not receive a fair trial before Judge Holzer because of the alleged conspiracy; and that his attorney had negotiated a sentence of 2 to 3 years if he did plead guilty. The defendant then referred to a letter from his attorney as "evidence" of such a conspiracy, denied that he had requested a "deal" from his attorney or Judge Holzer, stated that both his attorney and the Judge were now angry because of his refusal to plead guilty, and that the defendant was told on April 4, 1968, that he would not be granted a change of venue. The defendant also stated that Judge Holzer had entered "into a conspiracy with my attorney to save face in a fraud," and charged that the court acted as a "Klux Klan, Gestapo Setup, Jim Crow Justice and a Crime Syndicate" in his two cases.

Upon hearing the petition, Judge Holzer engaged in the following colloquy with the defendant:

"THE COURT: Therefore, the Court will ask the petitioner if indeed this is his signature?

THE DEFENDANT: That's mine. That's mine.

THE COURT: Did you write this in your own handwriting, sir?


THE COURT: Do you affirm the contents of this document?

THE DEFENDANT: I can prove everything I am saying in there so far."

The court then recited the history of the defendant's two cases, which indicated that he was then being represented by his third court-appointed attorney, the second having withdrawn after the defendant made accusations against him as well. The court then read into the record several passages from the petition, found the defendant guilty of a direct contempt, and entered the contempt order on that date. The defendant has appealed from this order, and the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming it.

The defendant contends that he was deprived of due process and equal protection of the law in that he was not granted a jury trial before another judge on the question of the alleged contempt, and in that a sentence of one year made the contempt sufficiently serious to require a trial rather than summary sentencing.

In People v. Tomashevsky, 48 Ill.2d 559, we considered the court's power to punish for both direct and indirect contempt, and the rules there cited relative to direct contempt proceedings are applicable in the case at bar and need not be restated. Under the facts of this case the defendant committed an act of direct contempt of the court. The allegations of his petition were intentionally disrespectful, contemptuous and abusive of the court, and reflected upon the personal integrity of Judge Holzer. People v. Tavernier, 384 Ill. 388, 393.

We believe that the appellate court properly held that the order finding the defendant guilty of direct contempt was valid even though it stated no facts to support it. While People v. Tavernier, 384 Ill. 388, is frequently cited in support of the rule that specific facts constituting the basis of a direct contempt may be incorporated by reference, if not set forth in the order itself, that rule of law does not appear applicable to the case at bar. However, Tavernier also stated at page 392 that "The facts which are essential to sustain the action of the court in issuing an order of commitment cannot be supplied by presumptions or inferences." In People v. Tomashevsky, 48 Ill.2d 559, at page 564 we noted and approved the pronouncement of our appellate courts "that since the report of the proceedings reflects what actually occurred in open court, the findings in the order of contempt, if ...

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