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People v. Smeathers

July 09, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
NORMAN W. SMEATHERS, RESPONDENT AND CONTEMNOR-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Geiger

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS SECOND DISTRICT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County.

No. 96--CC--1

Honorable John W. Rapp, Jr., Judge, Presiding.

Following a hearing, the respondent, Norman Smeathers, was found guilty of indirect criminal contempt and sentenced to 60 days' imprisonment. The State initiated the contempt proceedings against the respondent after he attempted to place a lien on the property of Judge William Kelly, who had presided over two traffic cases involving the respondent. For the sake of clarity, we will refer to the individual trial Judges involved in the instant case by name. On appeal, the respondent argues that (1) Judge John Rapp erred by not recusing himself from the contempt hearing; (2) the respondent was not proved guilty of contempt beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) the respondent was entitled to a jury trial. We affirm.

The facts relevant to the Disposition of this appeal are as follows. On May 24, 1996, the respondent was charged with driving an uninsured vehicle. On August 11, 1996, the respondent was again charged with operating an uninsured vehicle. At the time of the second offense, the respondent posted his Illinois driver's license as bond. On August 15, 1996, the respondent appeared before Judge William Kelly. The respondent requested that his driver's license be returned to him. Judge Kelly denied this request.

On August 16, 1996, the respondent sent a document entitled "Original Notice" to Judge Kelly and his wife, Anna Kelly. The notice indicated that Judge Kelly and his wife were "withholding" the respondent's property in violation of "Uniform Commercial Code at book 1, Section 207." The notice indicated that if Judge Kelly and his wife did not respond in 20 days, a default judgment would be entered against them and a "common law" lien would be perfected against their real estate.

On August 19, 1996, Judge Victor Sprengelmeyer ordered the respondent to appear before the trial court to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for filing a lien on Judge Kelly's property. On August 23, 1996, the respondent appeared before Judge John Rapp on the rule to show cause. Judge Rapp asked the respondent if he had sent a notice of a lien to Judge Kelly. The respondent refused to answer Judge Rapp's inquiries and questioned the trial court's jurisdiction over him. Judge Rapp found the respondent in direct criminal contempt and ordered him to be imprisoned for an hour. However, Judge Rapp rescinded this order when the respondent informed him that he had a minor child with him. Judge Rapp then ordered the respondent not to file any further documents attempting to create a lien on Judge Kelly's property. The respondent informed the trial court that he would not file any such documents.

On or about September 16, 1996, the respondent sent Judge Kelly a "Notice of Default," indicating that a judgment of default had been entered against Judge Kelly and his wife in the sum of $100,000. On October 14 and 15, 1996, the respondent also filed complaints with the Judicial Inquiry Board against Judges Kelly, Sprengelmeyer, and Rapp.

On October 17, 1996, the State filed a petition for adjudication of indirect criminal contempt against the respondent. The State alleged that the respondent had purposely acted in a manner so as to disrupt the court from conducting its business in an orderly fashion. The State also alleged that the respondent had embarrassed the court, obstructed the court in its administration of Justice, and derogated the court's dignity and authority.

Also on October 17, 1996, the respondent filed a pro se "Motion for Change of Venue." The respondent argued that he could not receive a fair trial before Judge Rapp because Judge Rapp was a "debtor to a financial transaction to which the [respondent was] the complaintant [sic]/secured party, and of which a demand for collection has been made and a default exists." The respondent also argued that an "extreme conflict of interest" existed between him and judge Rapp because he had filed a complaint against Judge Rapp with the Judicial Inquiry Board. The respondent therefore requested that his case be transferred to an alternate Judge.

That same day, Judge Rapp considered and denied the respondent's "Motion for Change of Venue." Judge Rapp found that the respondent's motion was untimely because he had not requested a change until after the trial court had already made a substantive ruling. Furthermore, judge Rapp found that any conflict that existed was one that the respondent had created.

Following this ruling, Judge Rapp conducted a hearing on the State's petition. Judge Kelly testified that he presided over a traffic matter in which the respondent had been charged with driving an uninsured vehicle. Judge Kelly explained that, after he denied the respondent's request to return his driver's license, he began receiving a series of notices from the respondent. Each of these notices alleged that Judge Kelly and his wife owed the respondent $100,000. Judge Kelly testified that he had never had any financial dealings with the respondent.

The respondent also testified at the hearing. The respondent admitted to having sent the notices of lien and default to Judge Kelly and his wife. The respondent explained that he believed his actions were proper under the law and that ...


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