The Illinois Appellate Court has reversed Des Plaines attorney Wayne Adams' 2011 contempt of court conviction and sent the case back to Rolling Meadows Third Municipal District for a retrial.
The appellate court found that Adams should have been allowed a hearing by a judge other than the one who found him in contempt for not being in the Rolling Meadows courtroom when a trial was beginning involving his client.
Last October, Cook County Judge Alfred Levinson ordered Arlington Heights prosecutor Ernest Blomquist to charge Adams with indirect criminal contempt of court after Adams failed to return following a lunch break. A jury had been selected and a trial was scheduled to begin on traffic offense charges against Adams' client. Another attorney, not affiliated with Adams, agreed to represent the client, who was convicted and fined.
Arguing that the trial judge was prejudiced against him, Adams filed a motion for a different judge to hear the contempt charge, stating, according to the appellate court order, that "the trial judge wanted to punish him for asking for a jury trial on a traffic ticket." Cook County Judge Thomas Fecarotta denied that motion.
"I had a clear right for a substitution of judge and I didn't get it," said Adams, a former police officer and onetime Des Plaines alderman.
During his November 2011 hearing on the indirect contempt charge, Adams stated that he had tried unsuccessfully to cover both the trial and a real estate closing for other clients that was scheduled the same day. To that end, he notified his Rolling Meadows client he would not be able to return for the trial while also attempting to contact the parties involved in the closing to reschedule that case. He defended his actions by saying he "could not abandon the real estate closing because it would have created a private injury and would potentially have resulted in a malpractice claim," according to the appellate court order.
The trial judge stated he could not "conceive of anything more disrespectful and contemptuous of a court proceeding than to attend a real estate closing in the middle of a jury trial and abandon a client," the order shows.
As for "abandoning" his Rolling Meadows client, Adams says he "weighed the totality of the circumstances" and determined that missing the closing would result in greater harm to a client. Levinson found Adams in contempt, sentenced him to two days in Cook County Jail and ordered him to pay $5,040.86 in court costs. Adams spent about 24 hours in custody and appealed the sentence and judgment.
The appellate court found that Adams was entitled to a substitution of judge, reversed the finding of indirect criminal contempt and ordered the proceedings held before a judge other than the trial or motion judge. The court also found that Adams is liable only for costs and fees related to the contempt proceedings and not for those associated with the traffic offense trial. Lastly the court noted that "incarceration, in this context, strikes us as unduly harsh."
"I feel that I was clearly vindicated," said Adams, adding that he has subsequently appeared before both Levinson and Fecarotta and both have treated him appropriately.
No date has been set for a retrial.