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June 10, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Samuel Maragos, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication August 2, 1994. As Corrected November 23, 1994.

Egan, McNAMARA, Giannis

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Egan

PRESIDING JUSTICE EGAN delivered the opinion of the court:

After many years of pre-trial proceedings, the trial Judge granted the respondent, Edmund Drewitch, what both parties label a default judgment of dissolution from his wife, Helena Drewitch. The Judge denied Helena's motion to vacate the judgment. Helena appeals.

Edmund was born in 1913 and Helena in 1930. They met in 1979 or 1980 and married in July 1980. Helena had married and divorced three times before she married Edmund. According to Edmund, Helena spent only 110 days living with him in his Urbana, Illinois home between their marriage in 1980 and their separation in 1982. Helena spent the rest of 1980, 1981, and 1982 living with her sons in Chicago or vacationing in Poland. Helena admitted that, in 1981, she rented an apartment in Chicago and "was just visiting" Edmund whenever she went to Urbana. Nonetheless, Helena stated that she asked Edmund to transfer half of his Urbana home to her and was angry with him until he made her a joint tenant of the home. Edmund testified that Helena took valuable furniture and other personal property from this home without his permission.

In May, 1982, Helena filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage. Edmund answered the petition and filed a counter-petition for dissolution. The record contains a file-stamped copy of Helena's answer to Edmund's counter-petition, but no certificate of service or other proof that this answer was ever served on Edmund or his attorneys.

On September 8, 1982, Judge Buckley ordered Edmund to pay Helena the higher of $750 or 25% of his income, each month, as temporary maintenance. Edmund paid Helena temporary maintenance of $750 each month until October 23, 1991, when Judge Maragos entered the judgment of dissolution. Thus, Edmund paid Helena $81,750 over a period of nine years.

Helena received many continuances while her petition was pending. The record on appeal is composed primarily of orders granting Helena's numerous requests for continuances. Moreover, she admits in her brief that she has "a history of changing attorneys and [failing] personally to appear in court." In fact, she had six attorneys during the trial court proceedings and often received long continuances to obtain new counsel. The trial Judge found that she fired or "caused to withdraw" all of her attorneys. At least three of her attorneys withdrew because Helena refused to cooperate with them. One attorney stated that Helena told him she would not attend scheduled trial dates because she would be in Florida, that Helena refused to follow his advice, and that she refused to settle the case, insisting on "requests for settlement [which] are so unreasonable and unrealistic that this matter has been pending in excess of eight years."

Helena's petition was dismissed for want of prosecution once in 1985 and twice in 1986, although these dismissals were vacated. In 1990, Judge Sheldon Gardner refused to rule on Helena's request that Edmund pay many of her medical expenses because Helena had not complied with the Judge's order and Edmund's insurance company's request that she be examined by one of several specific physicians. In 1991, Helena initially ignored a notice compelling her to appear at a hearing before Judge Maragos. She appeared before Judge Maragos on July 11, 1991, only after receiving a second notice compelling her attendance, and was admonished by the Judge to appear at the trial set for October 23, 1991.

Nonetheless, on October 17, 1991, Helena sent Edmund's attorney a letter asking the attorney to give Judge Maragos a note from her doctor and to tell Judge Maragos that she could not come to court on October 23. She asked the attorney to obtain an "extension" of at least one month and a court date "not early in the morning, if possible." The doctor's note asked that Helena be excused from any "court appearance for about one month." The note explained that Helena had no new illness, just an "exacerbation of her illnesses," and did not state that this was a recent or sudden change in the condition which kept her from court in May, 1991. Edmund's attorney sent a letter to Helena immediately, informing her that he had calledJudge Maragos, that Judge Maragos "does not grant any continuances by telephone," and that Helena should appear on October 23 or "have someone [in court] who can testify competently concerning [her] physical condition."

Helena did not appear on October 23. Instead, she sent her son's girlfriend, Margaret Turska. Turska told the Judge that Helena asked her "to deliver papers" to the Judge. Turska was not an attorney or a medical professional. Turska handed the Judge the doctor's note and Helena's letter to Edmund's attorney. Edmund testified that Helena had called him the night before the hearing and "told [him] not to appear" because "she was sick or something." In response, the Judge explained:

"This matter is an '82 case and this is the fourth or fifth attorney she's had, and she's fired all of them. Now, she sends a letter and she doesn't--she wants it continued. I will not give it to her. I told her the last time she was in court this was her last chance to get enough time to appear here, so where is she now?

Tell her that the case has gone--She did have a petition. She just sent a letter and she does that all the time. She's not believable. So just tell her that I'm going ahead with the ...

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