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Lebovitz v. Cahill

OPINION FILED MARCH 20, 1979.

JERRY LEBOVITZ, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

WILLIAM CAHILL, M.D., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DAVID A. CANEL, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from a judgment for defendant in a medical malpractice action. The issues are: (1) whether the court erred in denying plaintiff's petition for a change of venue; and (2) whether the court erred in denying plaintiff's motion for leave to file a late jury demand. The pertinent facts follow.

On July 29, 1974, plaintiff, Jerry Lebovitz, filed a two-count complaint in the circuit court of Cook County, seeking damages for the alleged medical malpractice of defendant, Dr. William Cahill, in count I, and for the alleged negligence of Columbus Hospital in count II. Plaintiff did not file a jury demand with his complaint. Soon after, Columbus Hospital and defendant each filed an appearance, answer, and jury demand.

• 1 Plaintiff's action was assigned to the malpractice section of the law division of the circuit court. At the time, the malpractice section was composed of a supervising judge, the Honorable David A. Canel, and three other trial judges. Pursuant to the procedure adopted in that section, of which we take judicial notice, all proceedings prior to the assignment of a case for trial, such as discovery procedures, pretrial motions, and pretrial conferences, are conducted before the supervising judge.

On December 12, 1975, Columbus Hospital presented its motion for summary judgment (incorrectly denominated as a motion to dismiss) to Judge Canel, the supervising judge. After multiple continuances, Judge Canel conducted a hearing on the motion and entered summary judgment in favor of Columbus Hospital and against plaintiff. After plaintiff's motion to vacate the summary judgment order was denied, plaintiff appealed, but the appeal was later dismissed by stipulation of the parties. Other pretrial activities by Judge Canel included the holding of several pretrial conferences and a decision limiting the number of nontreating experts to be called by this defendant at trial.

The cause came on for trial twice, on March 30 and April 4, 1977, but each time it was continued prior to assignment to any specific trial judge. On the morning of May 4, 1977, finding that the other three trial judges in the malpractice section were engaged, the supervising judge assigned the case out to trial to himself. Plaintiff immediately petitioned for a change of venue pursuant to sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Venue Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, pars. 501, 502, and 503 (formerly ch. 146, pars. 1, 2, and 3)), on the ground that the trial judge was prejudiced against him and his attorney. The court denied the petition.

Defendant's counsel then announced that he was going to withdraw his jury demand, which had been on file since defendant filed his appearance in September of 1974. Plaintiff then requested leave to file his own jury demand. Plaintiff's counsel stated that some weeks before, defendant had suggested in open court that he might withdraw his jury demand, but defendant later advised plaintiff that he was not going to do so. Therefore, plaintiff was taken by surprise by defendant's withdrawal of his jury demand. The court thereupon denied plaintiff's request for leave to file his own jury demand.

Plaintiff also moved for a continuance to determine the availability of his expert witness. The court indicated that the trial would begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, with him as the trier of fact.

When the court reconvened at 2 p.m., and prior to the giving of opening statements, plaintiff moved that the court disqualify himself on the ground that the court was personally acquainted with some of the expert witnesses in the case, particularly one whom defendant expected to call. The court denied the motion and proceeded to hear the case as the finder of fact. *fn1 At the close of all the evidence, the court found the issues in favor of defendant and entered judgment thereon. This appeal followed.

The first issue is whether the court erred in denying plaintiff's petition for a change of venue. Section 1 of the venue act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 501 (formerly ch. 146, par. 1)) provides in pertinent part:

"A change of venue in any civil action may be had in the following situations:

(2) Where any party or his attorney fears that he will not receive a fair trial in the court in which the action is pending, because * * * the judge is prejudiced against him, or his attorney, * * *. In any such situation the venue shall not be changed except upon application, as provided in this Act, or by consent of the parties."

Section 3 of the venue act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, par. 503 (formerly ch. 146, par. 3)) provides:

"Every application for a change of venue by a party or his attorney shall be by petition, setting forth the cause of the application and praying a change of venue, which petition shall be verified by the affidavit of the applicant. A petition for change of venue shall not be granted unless it is presented before trial or hearings begins and before the judge to whom it is presented has ruled on any substantial issue in the case, provided that if any grounds for ...


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