APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. HARRY
D. STROUSE, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE RECHENMACHER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This appeal presents the question of whether a public official who has been convicted of extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 is eligible to hold the office of township supervisor.
In March of 1976, Ronald R. Coles was convicted of two counts of extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, in Federal court. At the time of his conviction, Coles was supervisor of Lake Villa Township. The Lake Villa Town Board of Auditors, pursuant to section 1 of "An Act to require the payment of compensation to any officer or employee of the State of Illinois who has been reinstated in his office or employment after reversal of his conviction for any crime" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 102, par. 120), declared the office of township supervisor vacant. However, on June 23, 1976, the board appointed Coles to serve the unexpired term. On November 4, 1976, the Lake County State's Attorney instituted a quo warrantor proceeding against Coles and the Lake Villa Town Board of Auditors, and on February 10, 1977, an order of ouster was entered by the circuit court of Lake County. Subsequently, a township election was held on April 5, 1977, and Coles was elected township supervisor. The State's Attorney responded by filing a second quo warrantor action, and this resulted in another order of ouster entered May 4, 1977. This is a consolidated appeal from the two ouster orders (hereafter appellant will be desiganted simply as "Coles").
After Coles' brief was filed, the State's Attorney requested and received three extensions of time within which to file a brief, but never did so. Counsel for Coles at oral argument in this court appeared and presented his views but no one appeared on behalf of the People. Then, more than a week after the case was taken under advisement, the State's Attorney filed a motion asking for leave to file a brief. We denied that motion.
1-3 Parties to an appeal are not justified in assuming that, as a matter of course, an appellate court will serve both as judge and as an advocate for the appellee, or search the record for the purpose of sustaining the judgment of the trial court. Where the appellee has filed no brief, it is within the discretion of an appellate court to reverse the judgment of the trial court if the appellant's brief demonstrates prima facie reversible error and the contentions of the brief find support in the record. (First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp. (1976), 63 Ill.2d 128.) However, in the instant case, a question of considerable public importance is presented and the failure to fully explore the merits could leave Coles in office, but with his position clouded by lingering doubts concerning his statutory eligibility. Further, it is evident from the record that the trial judge gave this cause painstaking and thoughtful attention and it would be a grievous disservice to his conscientious efforts for this court to do less. Thus, we will do our best to fully explore the merits of Coles' contentions on appeal, in spite of the State's Attorney's failure to file a brief pursuant to the rules.
A reading of the constitutional and statutory provisions pertaining to the effect of criminal conviction on an individual's qualifications to hold public office is a prerequisite to the understanding of the various contentions which Coles has raised in this appeal. Article XIII, section 1 of the 1970 Constitution of the State of Illinois renders individuals convicted of a broad classification of crimes ineligible to hold constitutional office:
"§ 1. DISQUALIFICATION FOR PUBLIC OFFICE
A person convicted of a felony, bribery, perjury or other infamous crimes shall be ineligible to hold an office created by this Constitution. * * *."
Section 29-15 of the Election Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 46, par. 29-15) provides:
"§ 29-15. Conviction deemed infamous). Any person convicted of an infamous crime as such term is defined in Section 124-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963, as amended, shall thereafter be prohibited from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit, unless such person is again restored to such rights by the terms of a pardon for the offense or otherwise according to law."
Section 124-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 124-1) embraces a narrower classification of offenses than article XIII, section 1 of the Constitution:
"`Infamous crimes' are the offenses of arson, bigamy, bribery, burglary, deviate sexual assault, forgery, incest or aggravated incest, indecent liberties with a child, kidnaping or aggravated kidnaping, murder, perjury, rape, robbery, sale of narcotic drugs, subornation of perjury, and theft if the punishment imposed is imprisonment in the penitentiary."
Section 5-5-5(a), (b), and (c) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 1005-5-5(a), (b), and (c)) also has reference to the effect of a conviction upon a person's eligibility to hold public office:
"Loss and Restoration of Rights.) (a) Conviction and disposition shall not entail the loss by the defendant of any civil ...