Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County. No. 02CF183. Honorable Mitchell K. Shick, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton
On January 2, 2004, contemnor, attorney Mervin L. Wolfe, filed a motion to continue both a pretrial hearing set for January 5, 2004, and a jury trial set for the following day in which he was scheduled to represent his client, Robert E. Young. In his motion, Wolfe stated his doctor had taken him off work for at least three weeks. On January 5, 2004, the trial court granted the continuance conditioned on Wolfe filing with the court an explanation as to his absence and a medical report containing his diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. Wolfe failed to do so. Thereafter, the court found Wolfe in indirect civil contempt and directed him to pay a $500 fine, $85 in attorney fees, and $115.68 in costs (the costs of witnesses appearing in court on January 5, 2004). Wolfe appeals, arguing (1) the physician-patient privilege protects nonparty attorneys from being forced to provide medical-record information and (2) use by an attorney of his medical leave as a basis for a continuance does not waive his right to the physician-patient privilege. We affirm.
In 2002, the State charged Young with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and criminal sexual assault. On June 3, 2002, Wolfe entered his appearance. On August 1, 2002, Wolfe filed a petition for a fitness examination, and the trial court entered an order on September 16, 2002, finding Young unfit to stand trial. Young remained unfit until the court found him fit to stand trial on April 15, 2003.
After granting numerous continuances at Wolfe's request, the trial court scheduled a jury trial for January 6, 2004. On January 2, 2004, Wolfe faxed to the court a motion to continue the pretrial hearing scheduled for January 5 and the jury trial scheduled for January 6, stating that his doctor had taken him off work for at least three weeks. Wolfe also faxed a letter from his physician, stating essentially that Wolfe was tired and should not work for three weeks. On January 5, 2004, the court called the case for hearing, and Wolfe did not appear. The court granted Wolfe's motion to continue--over the State's objection--but directed Wolfe to file a detailed report within seven days setting forth his diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan and further ordered that Wolfe's physician make herself available to speak with the court regarding Wolfe's condition.
At a January 12, 2004, hearing, the trial court replaced Wolfe as Young's counsel and stated that an additional report submitted by Wolfe's wife with regard to his unavailability was "insufficient to provide the details that the [c]court did ask for." On January 20, 2004, the State filed a petition requesting that a rule to show cause issue as to why Wolfe should not be held in indirect civil contempt for failure to comply with the court's January 5 order, and on January 26, 2004, the rule was issued.
On February 6, 2004, Wolfe, through counsel, filed a memorandum of law, in which he raised for the first time the physician-patient privilege argument he now makes on appeal. On that date, the trial court held a hearing on the rule to show cause, at which Wolfe was not present but was represented by counsel. At this hearing, Wolfe argued that the court's conditional continuance violated his physician-patient privilege. The court rejected that argument and found Wolfe in wilful contempt. The court ordered Wolfe to pay $500, $85 in attorney fees, and $115.68 in court costs.
Wolfe argues (1) the physician-patient privilege protects nonparty attorneys from being forced to provide medical-record information and (2) use by an attorney of his medical leave as a basis for a continuance does not waive his right to the physician-patient privilege. Specifically, Wolfe argues that no exceptions to the physician-patient privilege apply to him and that the policy of privacy in medical records requires reversal of the trial court's contempt finding. He claims that affirming the trial court would force all "nonparty" attorneys who seek continuances for medical reasons to provide detailed confirmation.
"Courts have the inherent power to enforce their orders by way of contempt." In re G.B., 88 Ill. 2d 36, 41, 430 N.E.2d 1096, 1098 (1981). That power authorizes a trial court to punish conduct that is calculated to impede, embarrass, or obstruct the court in its administration of justice or derogate from the court's authority or dignity or to bring the administration of law into disrepute. People v. Ernest, 141 Ill. 2d 412, 421, 566 N.E.2d 231, 235 (1990). A court order made within the proper exercise of jurisdiction, no matter how erroneous, must be obeyed until the order is modified or set aside by the trial court or reversed on appeal. Ernest, 141 Ill. 2d at 424, 566 N.E.2d at 236. Showing that a court order was merely erroneous is no defense to a contempt citation for disobedience of that order, and a finding of contempt will be vacated only where the court's order is void ab initio. People ex rel. Burris v. Maraviglia, 264 Ill. App. 3d 392, 400, 636 N.E.2d 717, 724 (1993). A contempt determination will not be disturbed unless the trial court abused its discretion. Maraviglia, 264 Ill. App. 3d at 400, 636 N.E.2d at 724. An appeal from a contempt order requires the reviewing court to examine the propriety of the underlying order that ultimately led to the finding of contempt. Maraviglia, 264 Ill. App. 3d at 400, 636 N.E.2d at 724.
We must therefore review the propriety of the trial court's order conditionally granting a continuance. Section 114-4 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ...