Thursday, April 06, 2006

Civ Pro in action

One of the biggest benefits of summer work - particularly summer work at a swamped, understaffed agency that won't lock you in a room with a Westlaw password and a computer - is that you get to see some of the stuff you learned in classes play out in actual cases.

This past summer, I got a crash course in what I termed the "dark side of Civ Pro."

We had a pretty routine family case, or at least it should have been fairly routine. But the respondent knew just enough civ pro to be dangerous. He had already been before every judge in his small county on some sort of criminal or civil matter, so one by one he filed petitions for substitution against every one of them. Some of them voluntarily recused themselves, others let fellow judges decide. By the time I came on the scene at work, he'd gone through every judge in his county so they were bringing in other judges to hear our motions.

The first hearing I attended, we were greeted with yet another petition for substitution alleging actual prejudice. Since every judge in that county had already been disqualified in one way or another, none of them could rule on the petition and neither could the judge against whom it was filed. So we had to continue the case yet again until someone else could be brought in from a neighboring county to hear the petition.

I'm pretty sure that case still isn't over.

Well, in Madison County we're getting another chance to view civil procedure in action.

A couple of months ago, following a judge's retirement, Lloyd Karmeier appointed former (Republican) prosecutor Don Weber to fill the vacancy until the next election.

In Illinois, a participant in a lawsuit is allowed one change of judge "by right." (meaning no reason has to be given) Since many of the trial lawyers over in our neck of the woods are big time donors to and/or active participants in the Democratic party, many of them believe they won't get a fair trial in front of Judge Weber. So they are asking for substitution anytime they draw him for their cases.

Edit: There are also reports of racist comments Weber made when a prosecutor. I didn't include that in my original post because I couldn't find a source for it, but I do know that there was a picket by the NAACP at his swearing-in ceremony.

Now, the name Don Weber might be familiar to those of you old enough to remember the Paula Sims case. (Sims was a woman who was convicted of killing her two infant daughters. She was from my area - my grandma taught her in high school and her defense attorney lived in my neighborhood during the time of the trial.) Don Weber was the prosecutor who tried her case. He wrote a book about the case, and on the cover was a picture of Sims and her family. The photographer who took the picture sued, saying permission had not been granted to use the picture. One of our big law firms represented the photographer, so they moved for a sort of "blanket" substitution. They lost, but they'll probably get their substitutions another way. (It just would have been less a hassle if they'd won their case, I guess.)

Anyway, the end result of all this is that we have a judge in Madison County who, from what I hear, kind of sits around doing not-that-much because everyone requests substitution when they draw him as their judge.

It will be interesting to see what happens after the election. While some political watch dogs say this will be a close race that's impossible to call at present, many around the court house believe it won't even be close and David Hylla will win in a walk. (Just check out some of my group memberships linked on the side of this page to guess how I hope that turns out.)

At the very least, Madison County is never a boring place to work!


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it is true that Don Weber sits around doing nothing. But, don't jump to conclusions it is ENTIRELY because he is a Republican lapdog (even though he is). It could have a little bit to do with his past racist comments and the fact that he is a bit of a goofball, not to mention a publicity hound. Sure, he has apologized for the racist comments - but the fact is, he said them and he freely admits that. They have a rule that allows you to ask for a substitution and they use it. I don't blame them.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Legal Ease said...

I realize I didn't state this clearly in my post, but I don't blame them either. I'm a big proponent of the "zealous advocate" mentality, and if there's a tool at your disposal that's legal and ethical which will help your client, you need to use it.

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get used to having Judge Weber in Madison County, demographics are changing in Madison County and the unions don't buy as many votes now days. Too many doctors are leaving as the democrat trial attorneys get rich. Voters are ready for someone like Judge Weber too shake it up. Democrats are going to need more than the traditional race card and it doesn't surprise me they are throwing it here. Judge Weber was a good prosecutor and will make a better permanent Judge. Maybe one day in Madison County trial attorneys will have to stop paying for verdicts and actually argue their cases.


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