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Hobart v. Hale





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. Clarke C. Barnes, Judge, presiding.


The matter before us today was initiated by plaintiff Madge Hobart as a complaint and confession of judgment on a note dated January 28, 1980, signed by defendants, Chester and Genevieve Hale, and in the amount of $10,000. The note on its face was made payable on demand to Walter Stradley and endorsed on the reverse side to the plaintiff. Judgment by confession was entered January 14, 1984, by the circuit court of Rock Island County in the sum of $12,000-$10,000 in principal plus $2,000 in attorney fees. Summons to confirm judgment by confession was served on February 1, and on February 29, 1984, defendants filed motions to open and vacate the judgment by confession as well as their answer to the complaint. On May 1, 1984, the court granted defendants' motion to vacate and opened the matter for a trial on the merits. At the conclusion of testimony and presentation of counsel's arguments, the court took the matter under advisement. The court's decision of May 11, 1984, found in favor of plaintiff and awarded judgment of $10,000 plus costs and $2,081.25 in attorney fees. Defendants thereafter filed a timely notice of appeal to this court.

• 1 Defendants' primary contention is that the trial court's judgment is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Defendants urge that the judgment be reversed and vacated, that judgment be entered for defendants, and that plaintiff's cause of action be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff maintains that the trial court's decision should be affirmed and an additional award of $1,968.75 be approved for attorney fees incurred at the appellate level. We find neither party's position persuasive, but find that the matter must be remanded to the trial court for the purpose of joining a necessary party — namely, the estate of Alice Dinkle, deceased since 1981.

The facts as they appear from the testimony of the parties and Walter Stradley are somewhat complex, but will be set forth chronologically to the extent possible. In 1972 and 1973 Walter Stradley, an attorney, represented defendants Chester and Genevieve Hale with respect to certain real estate litigation in Warren County entitled Hale v. Ault. Stradley became ill, and the matter was taken over by other counsel. Stradley was not paid for his services, but maintained an ongoing relationship with the Hales. He was kept apprised of the progress of the litigation, which eventually wended its way to Federal court in Chicago as a discrimination suit.

Meanwhile, it appears that in 1973 a woman named Alice Dinkle sued Stradley and received a judgment against him for an unknown sum. A copy of the judgment cannot be found in the record before us. In supplemental proceedings to enforce that judgment, Stradley was ordered to assign to Dinkle the unpaid fees owed by the Hales. Although a copy of the assignment itself is not in the record, it appears that the court's order was dated February 25, 1976, and that Stradley complied by executing the assignment as ordered in 1976.

Stradley lost his license to practice law in 1977. His secretary, plaintiff Madge Hobart, who had been with Stradley since 1968, kept Stradley's law office open until 1979 at her own expense, and she was continuing to work for Stradley on a part-time basis at the time of the trial of this matter on May 1, 1984. Hobart testified that she had received no reimbursement or compensation from Stradley since early 1978.

Mrs. Dinkle never cancelled, reassigned or collected on Stradley's 1976 assignment during her lifetime. She died in 1981. According to the record before us, the assignment was not included in her estate's inventory.

Although the record is extremely confused as to the next series of events relevant to this suit, it appears that in early 1982 or 1983 Stradley appeared on behalf of the Hales at a deposition in connection with the Federal litigation in Chicago. The matter of fees owed Stradley on the Warren County litigation was broached, and the Hales and Stradley agreed upon a sum of $10,000 for legal services. The judgment note which is at the heart of the matter now before us was drawn confessing judgment in the amount of $10,000 payable to Stradley. Although it bears a date of January 28, 1980, testimony of the Hales and Stradley indicate that it was not in fact signed until 1982 or 1983. According to Stradley, another document bearing the date of January 3, 1983, was signed by the Hales concurrently to secure the note. That document is entitled "assignment" and reads as follows:

"FOR VALUE RECEIVED, the undersigned do HEREBY ASSIGN, TRANSFER AND SET OVER TO WALTER E. STRADLEY the sum of $10,000.00 of the proceeds received pursuant to a judgment that may be entered in a certain action pending in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Chester O. Hale and Genevieve A. Hale, Plaintiffs, vs. Lula L. Ault and Russell F. Ault, et al Defendants, No. 81 C 3169, to secure a certain promissory note Dated January 28, 1980 payable to said Walter E. Stradley.

Dated at Rock Island, Illinois, this 3rd day of January, 1983.

Chester O. Hale (signature) Genevieve A. Hale (signature)."

Although the Hales expressed some reluctance to sign the note and assignment document, they did so on Stradley's assurances that Alice Dinkle had died some time ago without acting on Stradley's prior assignment of his fees to her.

On January 6, 1984, Stradley procured a document entitled "disclaimer" from Robert Ellison, an attorney with Klockau, McCarthy, Ellison, Rinder & Hartsock, the firm that had represented Mrs. Dinkle in her 1973 suit against Stradley. This document reads as follows:

"An Assignment of fees owed Walter E. Stradley by Chester O. and Genevieve Hale was given to Alice Dinkle, which ...

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