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In Re Matter of Magnes

OCTOBER 11, 1972.


APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MINOR K. WILSON, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 22, 1972.

This is an appeal from two orders entered on October 21, 1970, by a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Minor K. Wilson, finding Ronald E. Magnes, an Assistant State's Attorney, in direct contempt of court for actions occurring on two separate occasions and fining him the sum of $50.00 for each of the contemptuous actions. This is, in effect, two appeals of two separate cases.

The issues on review are whether an attorney was in direct contempt of court when he refused to abide by a ruling of the trial judge and persisted in pursuing a line of questioning and arguing that the court was refusing to respect the case law, and whether an attorney was in direct contempt of court when he was late for court, delayed the trial, and was argumentative and insulting in his demeanor toward the court.

On September 24, 1970, Judge Wilson advised Assistant State's Attorney Magnes that there were two cases assigned to his courtroom the next day because the fourth term would expire then. As a consequence, he advised him that they would begin picking a jury at 9:00 A.M. the following morning. The next day Mr. Magnes arrived in the courtroom about 9:20 after being telephoned by Judge Wilson's bailiff. When Mr. Magnes arrived, the judge was on the bench, the panel of prospective jurors was seated in the jury box, and the defendant, appearing pro se, was seated with his advisor at counsel table. Mr. Magnes requested and was granted a conference in chambers.

In chambers, Mr. Magnes said he had not expected that a jury could be gotten at such an early hour. Judge Wilson stated he had waited until 9:20 for him to arrive and was told by his bailiff that the State's Attorney was on his way and that he wished to expedite matters.

After some colloquy, Judge Wilson characterized Mr. Magnes' present and past conduct as reprehensible. Then the following exchange took place:

"THE COURT: And if you can't get here on time there is only one person to blame, and that is yourself. Now I am ready to start this trial.

MR. MAGNES: Your Honor, you have either a conscious or unconscious prejudice against me or the State's Attorney's Office, one or the other.

THE COURT: It is because of your conduct.

MR. MAGNES: It is not my conduct, I say respectfully. I am old enough —

THE COURT: You don't say it respectfully.

MR. MAGNES: I am old and wise enough to have my own opinion concerning the matter. And I do believe you have a preoccupation with wanting to inconvenience and wanting to criticize, whenever possible, either me or the State's Attorney personally. And that is unfortunate.

THE COURT: That is not true.

MR. MAGNES: Those actions will speak louder than those words, Your Honor.

THE COURT: The only criticism I have around here is your deplorable conduct in this court.

MR. MAGNES: Cite me one incident of this deplorable conduct.

THE COURT: Just by your last comment, for one example."

During the colloquy which ensued, Judge Wilson denied Mr. Magnes' motion for a recess to await another Assistant State's Attorney and a motion for a recess to allow the jurors to relax in the corridor. When the latter motion was denied, Mr. Magnes accused the court of imposing upon the jury. The court then fined Mr. Magnes $50.00 for contempt.

• 1 Contempt of court has been defined as "conduct calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court in its administration of justice or to derogate from its authority or dignity, or bring the administration of law into disrepute." In re Estate of Melody (1969), 42 Ill.2d 451.

• 2 The remark for which the contemnor was fined must be evaluated in the context of the situation. He had been asked by the judge the previous day to be in court at 9:00 A.M., but he did not arrive until after 9:20 after he had been called by the judge's bailiff. His excuse was "that I had not expected the jury to be in the courtroom this early." In People v. Buster (1966), 77 Ill. App.2d 224, a contempt order was affirmed against a defendant's counsel when he failed to appear at the time designated. The court said:

"One of the primary duties of an attorney is that owed to the court. He is an officer of the court and owes to the court a duty to be obedient to its rules and orders. When engaged in litigation, he owes a duty to the court to appear before it upon notice and to assist the court in the expeditious consideration and disposal of pending cases."

• 3 While the court may have excused Mr. Magnes for being late, he also harangued the court and attempted to delay proceedings twice with motions for recess, knowing full well the pressure of time under which the court was operating. Finally, he accused the judge of imposing on the jury. In this context the remark was a derogation of the authority and dignity of the court.

The second instance of contempt took place on October 14, 1970. Mr. Magnes was cross-examining a police officer with regard to the identification of photographs by two individuals at the police station. After numerous objections to the line of questioning had been sustained by the court, there was a conference in chambers:

"THE COURT: Now, Mr. Magnes, there is case after case which holds that it is quite improper to have a detective or a police officer testifying to somebody else's identification.

MR. MAGNES: I am not making reference through this witness's testimony to the actual identification. I am making reference to certain procedures and certain activities respecting these witnesses taking place at the police Station. ...

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