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Harvey v. Carponelli





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Paul F. Elward, Judge, presiding.


Pro se plaintiff, Betty Sander Harvey, brought an action against defendants, her former attorney and his law firm, for purported professional negligence. The cause was assigned to trial and plaintiff sought and received a change of venue. It was reassigned to a second trial judge and plaintiff again requested a change of venue which was denied. A jury was ultimately impanelled after two panels of prospective jurors were dismissed during voir dire. Opening statements were heard and evidence was adduced. A mistrial was subsequently declared by the circuit court judge. After a hearing, the trial court entered an order holding plaintiff in direct contempt of court. A fine of $2,109.50 was also assessed against plaintiff. Finally, defendants' petition for attorney fees and costs was granted.

On appeal, plaintiff raises numerous issues that are not properly before this court. However, having reviewed the record, we address the following issues which this case presents: (1) whether the trial court erred in holding plaintiff in contempt of court; (2) whether the fine of $2,109.50 assessed against plaintiff is excessive; and (3) whether the trial court erred in awarding defendants $2,108.50 in attorney fees and costs.

We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.

Defendants were hired to represent plaintiff during the probate proceedings and settlement of her father's estate. Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action predicated upon the theory of professional negligence.

Plaintiff obtained her first change of venue after the cause was assigned to trial before the Honorable Lester Foreman. Thereafter, it was reassigned to the Honorable Paul Elward. Plaintiff's petition for a second change of venue was denied.

The cause proceeded to trial on August 13, 1981. Plaintiff was specifically warned against mentioning "insurance" to the jurors during voir dire. Despite the warning, plaintiff continued to ask improper questions. On two occasions all the jurors in the courtroom had to be excused as a result of plaintiff's questions. Defendants' motions for a mistrial were denied on both occasions. A jury was impanelled and opening statements were heard.

Plaintiff's first witness was called and examined. The trial judge found that the entire line of questioning by plaintiff as pro se counsel indicated a lack of awareness of the issues raised by plaintiff in her fourth amended complaint. The entire testimony of this witness was stricken as irrelevant. Next, plaintiff called herself as a witness. After taking the stand, she was allowed to read questions to herself from her notes for 1 1/2 days. She asked herself at least one question to which she answered "I don't know."

On August 24, 1981, plaintiff asked the trial judge, "Are we interested in facts, your Honor," in the presence of the jury. Following an in-chambers hearing, the trial judge granted defendants' third motion for a mistrial.

On January 4, 1982, the trial judge held plaintiff in contempt of court and assessed against plaintiff a fine of $2,109.50. The court also awarded defendants $2,108.50 in attorney fees and costs. The oral ruling of January 4, 1982, was incorporated into the written judgment entered January 7, 1982.

• 1 Initially, we must comment on the brief filed by plaintiff in this court. Here, as in Biggs v. Spader (1951), 411 Ill. 42, 103 N.E.2d 104, the brief filed is ambiguous and arduous and does not present the issues sought to be decided in an orderly manner. Furthermore, this court has recently held that reviewing courts> are entitled to have briefs submitted that present an organized and cohesive legal argument in accordance with the Supreme Court Rules. (In re Marriage of Souleles (1982), 111 Ill. App.3d 865, 444 N.E.2d 721.) Strict adherence to this standard is necessary to expedite and facilitate the administration of justice. Biggs.

We are mindful that plaintiff has litigated the action below as well as this appeal pro se and is not a licensed attorney. She asserts, as she did in Harvey v. Connor (1980), 85 Ill. App.3d 1061, 407 N.E.2d 879, cert. denied (1981), 451 U.S. 938, 68 L.Ed.2d 326, 101 S.Ct. 2019, that she contacted over 40 attorneys and was unable to find one who would handle her case. However, this court has heard four prior appeals in which plaintiff was involved as a pro se litigant. (See Harvey v. Mackay (1982), 109 Ill. App.3d 582, 440 N.E.2d 1022, wherein the court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim against an attorney for professional negligence; Harvey v. Connor, wherein the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's action against a former attorney for legal malpractice; Bard v. Harvey (1979), 74 Ill. App.3d 16, 392 N.E.2d 371, cert. denied (1983), 459 U.S. 1172, 74 L.Ed.2d 1016, 103 S.Ct. 819; Harvey v. Harris Trust & Savings Bank (1979), 73 Ill. App.3d 280, 391 N.E.2d 461, cert. denied (1980), 445 U.S. 929, 63 L.Ed.2d 762, 100 S.Ct. 1316.) In Harvey v. Harris Trust & Savings, we reminded plaintiff that this court will not apply a more lenient procedural standard to pro se litigants than is generally allowed attorneys. We regret that we must again admonish plaintiff that a pro se litigant must comply with the same rules of procedure required of attorneys.

We find plaintiff's brief to be flagrantly deficient in many respects and violative of the rules established by the supreme court for appellate briefs. 87 Ill.2d R. 341.

The introductory paragraph lists orders entered by the trial court followed by the vague statement that "[a]ppeal is taken from all such orders." No statement of the issue or issues presented for review as contemplated by subparagraph 2 of Rule 341(e) (87 Ill.2d R. 341(e)(2)) is included to facilitate this court's administration of justice. Plaintiff's purported "Statement of Facts" contains matters which are neither pertinent nor relevant to any issues properly before this court. Moreover, it is replete with improper argument and rhetorical ardency in direct contravention to Rule 341(e)(6) (87 Ill.2d R. 341(e)(6)). Further, plaintiff's brief fails to ...

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