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People v. Siegel

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 4, 1983.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,

v.

MARA SIEGEL, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. James M. Bailey, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Respondent, Mara Siegel, a licensed attorney, was summarily found in direct criminal contempt by the circuit court of Cook County, fined $1,000, and ordered incarcerated until the fine was paid. The appellate court reversed the judgment (102 Ill. App.3d 529), and we allowed the People's petition for leave to appeal. 73 Ill.2d R. 315.

The facts are adequately stated in the appellate court opinion and will be reviewed here only to the extent necessary to discuss the issues. On April 28, 1980, Marie Rodriguez, charged with various criminal offenses, appeared before the circuit court. Ms. Rodriguez contended that she was a soldier and combatant fighting for Puerto Rican freedom. She contended further that she was a prisoner of war and that the circuit court had no jurisdiction over her. She waived her right to counsel for the purposes of the circuit court proceedings but asserted her "right as a prisoner of war to request legal advisers." Due to her continued disruptive conduct the circuit court ordered that she be gagged. On April 29, 1980, the court ordered that Rodriguez be returned to the courtroom so that she could be properly advised of her right to counsel under Supreme Court Rule 401 (73 Ill.2d R. 401). Rodriguez, bound and gagged, was brought into the courtroom by three deputy sheriffs. Respondent, who was seated in the spectators' section of the courtroom, approached the bench. After identifying herself by name and as legal adviser for Rodriguez, she objected to the court's jurisdiction over Rodriguez on the ground that she was a prisoner of war. The court asked if respondent had filed an appearance. She answered that she had not done so and objected to the binding and gagging of Rodriguez. She demanded that Rodriguez be treated as a prisoner of war and stated, "This is outrageous display of the United States' cruel and inhumane treatment * * *." The court then stated:

"Let the record show I stated to you [Siegel] when you came into my chambers, you will not be allowed to stay in this courtroom unless you file an appearance the way an appearance should be filed * * *."

The court then cited respondent for contempt, fined her $1,000, and ordered that she be held in custody until the fine was paid.

The circuit court prepared a written order finding respondent in direct contempt of court. In the order, dated April 29, 1980, and stamped filed May 2, 1980, the circuit court stated that, prior to the case against Rodriguez being called, respondent appeared in his chambers and introduced herself as an attorney. The court informed her that to have standing before the court in the case against Rodriguez a formal appearance must be filed and that if she did not file an appearance she would not be allowed to address the court in open session. The order stated that respondent indicated her understanding of these requirements. The order further stated that respondent did not file an appearance as the attorney of record for Rodriguez and that when Rodriguez was brought before the bar, respondent approached the bench without authorization and addressed the court in a loud and abusive manner. The order then cited respondent's accusation that the court had engaged in "an outrageous display of the United States' cruel and inhumane treatment." The order noted that when the court asked respondent during the proceedings whether she had filed an appearance she informed the court that she had not. The order stated that "both the language and physical conduct of Mara Siegel threatened a breach of the peace and caused the orderly operations of this court to be disrupted." The order provided that because of the above-described conduct respondent was found to be in direct contempt of court and sentenced to pay a fine in the amount of $1,000. The order remanded respondent to the custody of the Cook County Department of Corrections until the fine was paid.

The People contend that respondent was properly held in contempt because she deliberately disobeyed a valid court order, interrupted the circuit court proceedings while under the duty, as a spectator, to remain silent, and attempted to represent a defendant who had waived counsel. The People also assert that in addition to defying a court order respondent violated a standing rule of the circuit court of Cook County which requires an attorney to file an appearance before representing a client in court. See Cook County Circuit Court Rule 1.4(a).

Respondent argues that the only logical inference that can be drawn from the circumstances shown is that she had no intent to commit contempt but rather that she made a good-faith effort to accommodate the legitimate needs of her client and the circuit court. Respondent states that because Rodriguez wished to avoid any action which might be construed to be recognition of the jurisdiction of the circuit court, she considered herself under explicit instructions from her client not to file an appearance. She denies that the court gave her any order in chambers concerning the filing of an appearance and maintains that she would not have spoken had she understood that she was under court order to be silent. She contends that when she saw her client being brought into the courtroom bound and gagged she behaved in a manner calculated to serve her client without obstructing court proceedings or contravening the terms of any order of which she was aware. Respondent does not contend that she was entitled to disobey a clear order of the court.

To sustain a finding of direct criminal contempt of court, it must be shown that particular conduct was calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct a court in its administration of justice, to derogate from its authority or dignity or bring the administration of law into disrepute. (People v. Miller (1972), 51 Ill.2d 76, 78; In re Estate of Melody (1969), 42 Ill.2d 451, 452.) The intent to commit contempt of court may be inferred from the contemnor's actions (People ex rel. Kunce v. Hogan (1977), 67 Ill.2d 55, 61), although a finding of contempt will not stand where it is shown that the attorney acted in good faith to serve her client and the court (People v. Miller (1972), 51 Ill.2d 76, 79; People v. Kuelper (1977), 46 Ill. App.3d 420, 423). The People contend that good faith is not a defense to a charge of refusing to obey a court order and argue that this case is distinguishable from those holding that an attorney should not be held in contempt for a few overzealous remarks made in good faith to represent a client. The distinction, they argue, is that respondent's conduct was contemptuous, not because of what she said, but because she addressed the court at all.

The record shows that Rodriguez' prior disruptive conduct presented the possibility of disorder in the court. Clearly respondent was aware of this volatile and difficult situation. Assuming that she considered it appropriate to object to the jurisdiction of the court and to present her contention that Rodriguez was a prisoner of war, she could have done so by a limited appearance, followed by a written motion. The fact that she chose instead to make her demands in the midst of an already unstable, difficult, and conceivably dangerous setting gives rise to a reasonable inference that her conduct was calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in its administration of justice. We are of the opinion that the circuit court's finding that respondent engaged in acts that were contumacious is supported by the record.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the appellate court is reversed and the judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.

Appellate court reversed; circuit court affirmed.

JUSTICE SIMON, dissenting:

I thought it was settled that there is no direct contempt of court unless the defendant either disobeys an explicit and proper order of the court or engages in court in conduct calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in its administration of justice, derogate from its authority or dignity, or bring the administration of law into disrepute. (12 Ill. L. & Prac. Contempt sec. 3 (1955); see, e.g., In re Estate of Melody (1969), 42 Ill.2d 451, 452.) I see nothing in the record to indicate that there was an explicit order by the court commanding respondent not to address it until she had filed an appearance, ...


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