Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois No. 00-CF-1628 Honorable Stephen D. White Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Barry
Brent Saltzman was charged by indictment with the offenses of attempt first degree murder, aggravated battery of a senior citizen, and aggravated domestic battery in connection with the assault of Jack Weber. Following a jury trial, Saltzman was convicted on all counts and sentenced to a term of twenty-eight years imprisonment on the attempt first degree murder charge and seven years imprisonment on the aggravated battery charges, sentences to run concurrently. Saltzman appeals his convictions.
On October 8, 2000, Saltzman was arrested for assaulting Jack Weber, his stepfather and the treasurer of Will County. Saltzman's case was originally assigned to Judge Gerald Kinney. Judge Kinney recused himself from the case based upon his personal relationship with the victim and his family. On December 1, 2000, the case was called before Chief Judge Stephen White. At this hearing, Saltzman filed motions for the recusal of all judges in Will County, for the appointment of a special prosecutor, and for a change of venue. After Saltzman filed the motions, Judge White stated as follows:
"Well, after Judge Kinney recusing himself, then the cause will come on for reassignment. Show I will assign this to myself for the time being until we see where we are with the others. We have the motion for change of place of trial, motion to appoint prosecutor and motion for appointment of judge outside [the county]."
The Illinois Supreme Court appointed Judge Clark Erickson of Kankakee County to hear the motion for recusal of all Will County judges. An evidentiary hearing was held on the motion before Judge Erickson on January 5, 2001. On January 11, 2001, Judge Erickson denied the motion for recusal. In his ruling, Judge Erickson stated that "[i]f a judge decides to keep this case, the defendant will then be free to challenge that individual judge under section 114/5." Judge Erickson further set the case for status before Chief Judge White the following day.
At the status hearing held before Chief Judge White on January 12, 2001, Saltzman filed a motion for substitution of judge naming Chief Judge White and Judge Rozak. Chief Judge White denied the motion, stating that Saltzman should have filed the motion on December 1, 2000, before the supreme court had appointed Judge Erickson to hear the motion for recusal of Will County judges. The remaining motions for appointment of a special prosecutor and for change of venue were also denied at that time.
The case proceeded to jury trial. Following the trial, Saltzman was convicted on all counts and was sentenced to a term of twenty-eight years on the attempt first degree murder charge and seven years on the aggravated battery charges, with sentences to run concurrently. Saltzman appeals his convictions.
A. Motion for the Recusal of Will County Judges
Saltzman first argues that Judge Erickson, who was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, erred in denying his motion for appointment of a judge from outside of Will County. Saltzman contends that no judge in Will County could impartially preside over his trial because he is Weber's stepson, and Weber, as county treasurer, pays the judges their salaries and pays the salaries of courtroom staff.
Decisions regarding the recusal of judges are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. People v. Kliner, 185 Ill. 2d 81,169, 705 N.E.2d 850, 894 (1998). A judge should disqualify himself if he knows he has a substantial financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or is a party to the proceeding where such an interest might affect the outcome of the proceeding. 203 Ill. 2d R. 63 C(1)(d). "The mere fact that a judge has some relationship with someone involved in a case, without more, is insufficient to establish judicial bias or warrant a judge's removal." People v. Craig, 313 Ill. App. 3d 104, 105, 728 N.E.2d 1288, 1289 (2000). The decision to disqualify a judge, particularly all the judges of a judicial circuit, should not be made lightly. Craig, 313 Ill. App. 3d at 105, 728 N.E.2d at 1289.
Judge Erickson held an evidentiary hearing prior to denying the motion. Judge Erickson found that Weber had a duty only to co-sign for funds appropriated by the county board, including checks for $500 of the Will County judges' annual salaries. He further found that Weber had no input into the appropriations for the judges' salaries. On January 11, 2001, Judge Erickson found no evidence of friendship or political association between Weber and any Will County judge. In light of these findings which are supported by the record, there exists ...