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In re Criminal Contempt of Turner

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 28, 2016

In re: The Matter Of, THE CRIMINAL CONTEMPT OF: SUSAN TURNER (No. 4-16-0245), Contemnor-Appellant. In re: The Matter Of, THE CRIMINAL CONTEMPT OF: KAREN L. HUDSON (No. 4-16-0284), Contemnor-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Scott County No. 14CC1 No. 14CC2 Honorable David R. Cherry, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE HOLDER WHITE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Knecht and Justice Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In April 2014, contemnors, Susan Turner and Karen L. Hudson, attended a jury trial involving concentrated animal feeding operations, an operation they opposed. During a lunch recess, an attorney for one of the parties informed the trial court that he learned contemnors were distributing material espousing the detriments of concentrated animal feeding operations to members of the gallery. The court did not personally witness these acts. Following the court's investigation of members of the gallery and the jury, the court held contemnors in direct criminal contempt of court for distributing prejudicial material within the courtroom.

         ¶ 2 Contemnors appeal, arguing that the trial court erred by finding them in direct criminal contempt. Following oral arguments, we reversed the court's order from the bench with this written order to follow.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 A. Factual Overview

         ¶ 5 In April 2014, a jury trial commenced in a civil proceeding involving concentrated animal feeding operations (Scott County case No. 10-L-3). After the parties had impaneled a jury, but prior to the presentation of evidence, the parties met in the trial judge's chambers. The defendant's counsel informed the trial court that a "lady known to [the] [p]laintiffs' counsel" carried a box of books denigrating industrial animal factories into the courtroom. During the proceedings, the material in question is interchangeably referred to as books, booklets, pamphlets, and literature; for consistency's sake, we will refer to the material as books. According to the defendant's counsel, he received a report during the lunch recess that the woman distributed these books, which were prejudicial to the defendant, to people in the gallery in the presence of the bailiff. The defendant's counsel was concerned that the books would make it into the possession of the jury. The court recalled seeing a woman with a box but did not observe her distributing any material. The court then told the parties they would all investigate the matter in the courtroom and later question the jury to see if they knew about the book. In the meantime, the jury was sequestered in the deliberation room.

         ¶ 6 Upon returning to the courtroom, the trial court ordered everyone in the gallery to remain in the courtroom due to a breach in security. The court then asked those sitting in the gallery if they had any information about a person with a box of books who was passing out those books to members of the audience. Eleven people raised their hands to indicate they had observed the person.

         ¶ 7 Upon questioning, two people in the gallery recounted receiving a copy of a book from a woman. Eventually, the contemnors were identified, and the trial court called for them to approach the bench. The court asked Hudson whether she brought the books in the courtroom. She admitted she brought them and distributed the material while court was not in session. The court held Hudson in direct criminal contempt, stating, "You are here to influence a jury. That is jury tampering. That is a felony."

         ¶ 8 The trial court then asked Turner if she had distributed any books. She replied she had not, but she had distributed her consulting card to a woman in the gallery. Upon further questioning by the court, Turner also admitted passing out what appears from the record to have been some type of pamphlet, not the books in question. The court then stated, "This is not the proper venue for you to get on a soap box, " and found Turner in direct criminal contempt. The court ordered contemnors taken into custody and told them they would be charged with jury tampering and held until bond had been set. When Turner apologized, the court responded, "Apologies don't make it. When you come in and ruin almost 3, 4 years of work that these attorneys have worked for, in an attempt to forward your personal agenda, you are using the wrong forum." The court again told Turner and Hudson they were in contempt and instructed that they be held in jail until the court could get back to them.

         ¶ 9 After contemnors were taken into custody, the attorneys for both sides disavowed any knowledge that contemnors intended to distribute any material. The trial court again noted it saw one of the women carrying a sealed box but made no mention of seeing anyone distribute any books. Likewise, the bailiff did not observe anyone passing out books or anything else. The court stated, "This taints everything we stand for. And this deserves, this deserves prison."

         ¶ 10 After calling the jury back into the courtroom for questioning, one juror disclosed that he observed a woman passing out a book in the gallery, but he did not see its title or have any contact with it after observing the woman hand it out. The trial court went on to ask if any jurors recognized anyone sitting in the gallery. Multiple jurors indicated they knew people sitting in the gallery. The court remarked to the jury, "You are a target now, you know. *** For you to be improperly influenced by some outside source is hard enough to put up with all these lawyers, but to be influenced or [for] somebody outside of this to try to influence you is criminal and, in fact, it is a crime in Illinois to try to tamper with the jury." The court later declared a mistrial.

         ¶ 11 The same day, while still in custody, Turner and Hudson again appeared before the trial court. An attorney, Judy Koehler, was present and indicated to the court that Attorney John Coonrod would be representing Turner and Hudson. Koehler indicated she knew Hudson from when Koehler lived in the Peoria area. By invitation of the court, Koehler sat next to contemnors. However, Koehler did not enter her appearance in the matter. The court never called on Koehler ...

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