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January 14, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 90-D-2569. Honorable Jack Hoogasian, Judge, Presiding.

Geiger, Bowman, Doyle

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Geiger

JUSTICE GEIGER delivered the opinion of the court:

Neil Robin (Robin), former attorney of respondent Sandi Chesrow in a dissolution proceeding, appeals from the order entered June 29, 1992, by the circuit court of Lake County, awarding attorney fees in the amount of $3,528.60 to Roger White (White), attorney for petitioner Robert Chesrow, and from the subsequent order entered September 8, 1992, denying Robin's motion to vacate the June 29 order. On appeal, Robin contends: (1) that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a sanction against Robin; (2) that the attorney fees awarded did not constitute reasonable or necessary charges for the services rendered during the period in question; and (3) that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Robin's motion to vacate the judgment for attorney fees.

On August 12, 1991, petitioner, Robert Chesrow, and respondent, Sandi Chesrow, were involved in a dissolution proceeding in Lake County. On that date, the court set the matter for trial on December 9, 1991. Attorney Robin scheduled witness interviews and other trial preparation for December 4, 5, and 6. On December 2, Robin received a telephone call from Judge Terrence Brady, who was to preside over the trial. By means of a three-way telephone conference, the Judge was also able to speak with attorney White. The Judge disclosed to Robin that the Judge was scheduled to take a skiing trip with White in January 1992. Judge Brady requested Robin and White to inform their clients of this fact and ascertain whether they would prefer the Judge recuse himself from hearing the trial. On December 4, 1991, Judge Brady entered a recusal order, assigning the cause to Judge Bernard Drew and putting it on Judge Drew's trial call "of 3/9/91" at 9 a.m.

On December 9, 1991, White appeared before Judge Drew; Robin did not appear. At that time Judge Drew recused himself and reassigned the case to Judge Jack Hoogasian. On that same date, White appeared before Judge Hoogasian, who set the trial for December 12, 1991. Later that day, White faxed a letter to Robin informing Robin that Judge Hoogasian had set the cause for trial on December 12, 1991, at 9 a.m. White stated in his letter:

"He [Judge Hoogasian] is efficient and decisive. I would expect the matter to go forward on that date."

On December 12, Robin and White appeared before Judge Hoogasian. Robin presented a petition to reschedule the case for trial. Robin's petition and his argument before the court were based on a clerical error Judge Brady had made on his recusal order wherein he had referred the cause to Judge Drew's trial call of "3/9/91." It was Robin's position that since March 1991 had already passed, he assumed Judge Brady intended to write "92" instead of "91" and that the case was actually set for trial on March 9, 1992. As a result of this belief, Robin had cancelled all trial preparation. Additionally, because the trial had been originally scheduled for December 9, 10, and 11 of 1991, Robin had scheduled other matters in Cook County for December 12 and 13. Also, he had scheduled himself for surgery on December 17 and anticipated needing a week for recovery.

Judge Hoogasian repeatedly interrupted Robin during his presentation of his position, stating that Robin had been informed that the cause was going to trial on this date and that he should summon his witnesses and be ready to proceed. Robin continued to stress his reliance on Judge Brady's clerical error as the attorney's reason for being unprepared to go to trial. At one point during the colloquy between Robin and Judge Hoogasian, the Judge left the courtroom to confer with Judge Brady regarding the discrepancies in the trial dates. Judge Brady informed Judge Hoogasian that he (Brady) had "goofed" when he ordered the cause for Judge Drew's trial call on "3/9/91" and that he intended that it be taken up on the 12/9/91 trial call.

A Discussion ensued among Judge Hoogasian, Robin, and White. The Judge determined that the trial should start the following day on December 13. Robin stated that he would not be ready because after receiving Judge Brady's order he had scheduled other matters for that date. Judge Hoogasian pointed out to Robin that Judge Drew's order dated December 4 set the instant matter for trial the "week of the 9th," that Robin should have inquired about the error in the trial date on that order, and that Judge Hoogasian's schedule would not allow him to reschedule the instant cause, as he was scheduled for trials through June 1992. The Judge ordered Robin to be present for trial on the following day. Robin objected, saying that he could not be physically present. The court threatened Robin with incarceration if he did not appear and denied Robin's motion to reschedule the case on some date after December 13.

On the morning of December 13, Robin and White appeared before Judge Hoogasian at the beginning of his call. Robin announced to the court that his client, Sandi Chesrow, was answering not ready for trial because he had not had sufficient time to prepare her case. The attorney reiterated his request to continue the trial and once again based his request for a continuance on the clerical error in Judge Brady's order of December 4, 1991. Judge Hoogasian denied Robin's motion, stating that Robin had had a duty to investigate the faulty date.

The Judge asked petitioner Robert Chesrow to call his first witness. Robin informed the court that he was leaving the courtroom and that he assumed the Judge would hold his client in default for not being ready for trial.

The matter proceeded to trial, and at the Conclusion of the proceeding Judge Hoogasian entered a judgment for dissolution of marriage. Subsequently, Robin filed a motion to vacate the dissolution judgment. On February 25, 1992, the Judge granted the motion, stating that "substantial Justice" required vacatur of the previously entered judgment. However, the Judge ordered Robin to pay attorney White's fees for the time spent in court on December 13, 1991, and thereafter until February 25.

Robin filed a motion with Judge Hoogasian to vacate or reconsider his order directing Robin to pay White's attorney fees. In the meantime, White filed his petition for fees amounting to $4,028.60. On May 18, 1992, the Judge denied the motion to vacate or ...

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