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UNITED STATES EX REL. STEWART v. SCOTT

September 8, 1980

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. THOMAS STEWART, PETITIONER,
v.
WILLIAM J. SCOTT, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, RICHARD ELROD, SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, AND HON. RICHARD FITZGERALD, CHIEF JUDGE, CRIMINAL DIVISION, CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crowley, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The petitioner, Thomas Stewart, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the constitutionality of his conviction in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Respondents have moved for summary judgment. Petitioner requests an evidentiary hearing or, alternatively, summary judgment in his favor.

Stewart was tried and convicted on two counts of armed robbery by a jury and sentenced to two to eight years in custody. He appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court which affirmed. People v. Stewart, 24 Ill. App.3d 605, 321 N.E.2d 450 (1974). The Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, 58 Ill.2d 595 (1975). Stewart then filed a petition for post judgment relief. The trial court denied the petition and the Illinois Appellate Court again affirmed. People v. Stewart, 66 Ill. App.3d 342, 23 Ill.Dec. 152, 383 N.E.2d 1179 (1978). Apparently because of some clerical error, a timely appeal was not taken and the Illinois Supreme Court refused to extend time to file a Petition for Leave to Appeal. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Stewart v. Illinois, 441 U.S. 907, 99 S.Ct. 1998, 60 L.Ed.2d 376 (1979).

Stewart then filed his habeas corpus petition in this Court. He charges that his retained attorney acted in a duplicitous role depriving him of effective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.*fn1 The charge is based on the facts that S. Thomas Sutton, Stewart's attorney, also represented his co-defendant, Stephan Sedlacko, and that Sutton himself planned the robbery for which Stewart was convicted.

At trial neither Stewart, the state's attorney nor the court inquired about any potential conflicts. Similarly, on appeal, although Stewart retained new counsel who presented challenges to the adequacy of representation, none of them related to Sutton's dual representation or his own involvement in the robbery. However, at the post-conviction hearing much evidence was adduced on those charges.

The evidence at that hearing established that Sutton was the leader and Stewart and Sedlacko were members of an organization called the Legion of Justice. The Legion's function was to gather intelligence information about certain "left-wing" activities. The robbery for which Stewart was convicted was one of a number of robberies and break-ins planned and executed by the Legion, its leader and members.

Sutton personally designated the Legion members who were to commit the robbery. Two of them were Sedlacko and a Tom Kominsky, whose physical characteristics were similar to Stewart's.

Sutton did not call Kominsky as a witness at trial, nor did he disclose his identity to the jury. Moreover, he purposely insured Sedlacko's absence from trial by instructing him to leave the jurisdiction and furnishing him with $2,000.00 and two sets of identification. Sutton also advised Stewart not to testify in his own behalf and ordered Stewart's brother to deny any knowledge about the Legion and Stewart's association with Sedlacko even though he knew those facts were false.

After hearing this evidence the state's attorney confessed error on the ground that Stewart was denied effective assistance of counsel. The trial court, however, determined that it was not bound by the confession of error, and the appellate court affirmed, holding that since Stewart knew the full extent of Sutton's participation in the robbery at the time the conviction was appealed, had retained new counsel and still did not raise the issue of conflict, he waived his right to challenge the adequacy of representation. People v. Stewart, 66 Ill. App.3d 342, 352-53, 23 Ill.Dec. 152, 160-161, 383 N.E.2d 1179, 1187-88 (1978).

A recent decision of the United States Supreme Court provides substantial guidance in resolving the issues presented here. In Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980), the Court held that a person who did not raise an objection to the adequacy of representation at trial was entitled to habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for violation of his Sixth Amendment rights if he could establish "that an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance". 100 S.Ct. 1708 at 1718. In reaching its decision the Court concluded that a district court reviewing a habeas corpus petition is not bound by a state court's finding that an attorney engaged in multiple representation since that determination is a mixed question of law and fact. In addition, the Court concluded that even though counsel was privately retained, not appointed, the requisite state action was established.

In this case, facts such as Sutton's activities in the Legion of Justice, his participation in planning the robbery, his instructions to Stewart's brother to falsely testify about his familiarity with the Legion and its members and his order to Sedlacko to leave the jurisdiction are "historical facts" which must be presumed correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 309 n. 6, 83 S.Ct. 745, 755 n. 6, 9 L.Ed.2d 770 (1963).

Neither the trial court nor the appellate court rejected these facts. Their findings merely involve the resolution of legal issues such as whether Stewart had waived his right to object to the representation and whether the representation was inadequate. Because these are legal findings or mixed questions of law and fact requiring "the application of legal principles to the historical facts," Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 342, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 1715, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980), this Court is not bound by those conclusions and may make an independent evaluation of Stewart's constitutional arguments.

The presence or absence of state action does not turn on the distinction between retained and appointed counsel. Rather, state action is predicated on the fact that the state itself initiates and conducts the trial. Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 343-345, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 1715-16, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980).

In this case, the involvement of the state is somewhat greater. In Cuyler there was no suggestion that state officials knew or should have known of defense counsel's conflict. In contrast, although the state's attorney apparently was unaware of potential conflicts at the time of trial, he made a confession of error which constitutes state participation in a stage of the proceeding when constitutional defects could have been rectified. Thus, the state action requirement is unequivocally satisfied. ...


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